And the nominees for Best Picture are…(2013 edition)

Today marks the second time I’ve written an entire post about the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. If you know your history, you’ll remember that last year’s Academy Awards gave us NINE Best Picture nominees to choose from: the thoroughly annoying-as-fuck “Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”; the baffling and HIGHLY OVER-RATED existentialist drama “The Tree of Life”;  the less-baffling but equally over-rated baseball drama “Moneyball”; the light-hearted, superbly-written Woody Allen comedy “Midnight in Paris”; the Civil Rights-era sisterhood drama “The Help”, a Steven Spielberg-directed war film about a horse simply titled “War Horse”; a family drama starring George Clooney in one of his best roles (“The Descendants”); Martin Scorsese’s CG-enhanced tribute to the early days of cinema (“Hugo”); and of course, the highly-entertaining, heartfelt homage to the silent film era (“The Artist”) that took home (wherever the hell that is) 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

 

With the exception of “Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring” (SERIOUSLY, it was!), “The Tree of Life” (which I honestly think I’ll fully appreciate after a couple more views….in the next 10 years or so) and “Moneyball” (Yes, I know. How could I say that? Well, I’m sorry. I’m from the Caribbean. I know about cricket. I hardly know anything about baseball. Sue me! ), the other films in the Best Picture list actually deserved their esteemed nominations. This year’s nominees – NINE AGAIN, since the old guys running the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still can’t make up their fucking minds as to what film truly deserves to be nominated that they get their grandchildren to assist them (“Grandpa, vote for ‘Les Miserables’! Anne Hathaway’s in it! I LIKE Anne Hathaway! She was AWESOME as Catwoman! Nominate her pleeeeeeease!”), however, are all surprisingly very good films in their own individual right. I managed to view all nine of these films and I can safely say that there’s not one terrible film in this current Best Picture nominee list. Two of them are ridiculously over-rated and over-hyped (I’ll reveal their names later) – but all of them aren’t terrible. But then again, this is all based on my personal opinion.

 

With that being said, today’s post will consist of mini-reviews (with little to no spoilers) of each of the Best Picture nominees of 2013. All of these films will get fair, decent ratings so don’t expect to see a “I Want My Money Back” rating for any of them (*COUGH*Extremely Depressing and Incredibly Boring*COUGH).  So without further ado, on to the reviews! (cue orchestral music)

 

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“AMOUR” – Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay

 

We start things off with the latest film from art-house film legend Michael Haneke, and the only foreign-language entry in the Best Picture category. “Amour” (or “Love” for you non-French speakers out there) focuses on a retired music teacher named Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), his paralyzed wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and the emotional strain on the love that they have for each other. “Amour” presents a simple story in an unconventional and minimalist (both intentional) manner. The film’s slow pace and lack of an actual musical score will turn off, or baffle the shit out of, the casual viewer. But it’s Haneke’s skilled direction (with a number of sequences resembling that of a fly-in-the-wall documentary),  cinematography by Darius Khondji (“Midnight in Paris”), the naturalistic, honest performances by both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and the film’s overall sombre tone that transcends “Amour” from being just a simplistic drama. Apart from its character study on an aging couple, the film touches on themes of love, life and death, and subtly asks questions related to these themes. For example, if you manage to find your soul mate/significant other, is it guaranteed that you will spend the rest of your life with that person? What if he/she is seriously injured, paralyzed or dying? Will you stay with that person or will you abandon him/her and look for another soul mate at the nearest lunch club or bingo hall or wherever the fuck old, single people hang out? The film doesn’t exactly ask that question, but you get the point – hopefully.  Clearly for the foreign language and art-house movie aficionado, and for those with the patience and fortitude to sit through two hours of watching an old couple in an apartment, “Amour” is an emotional, profound, heart-rending and realistic portrayal of love unlike anything shown in contemporary cinema. Of course, it’ll win the Best Foreign Language Oscar tonight, so if that’s not reason enough to watch this film just to understand what the big deal about it is, I don’t know what is. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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“BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD” – Also nominated for Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay

 

If I ever have a daughter, I’ll call her Quvenzhané – the maiden name of the child star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Why, you ask? Because she’s the youngest actress to be nominated for Best Actress. And she’s African-American! *HEYYYYYYYY!!* And her maiden name is AWESOME!  Mind you, I still can’t properly pronounce the name “Quvenzhané” and I’m guessing that when I call my daughter that name, I’ll just call her “Q” for short. So how is Quvenzhané Wallis in this film? Simply put, she’s the best thing about “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. For such a young age (nine at that), she delivers a breakthrough performance as the precocious Hushpuppy,  a resident of the Louisiana bayou community called the “Bathtub”. When a ferocious storm attacks the “Bathtub”, Hushpuppy learns about courage, survival and love during the time she spends with her unhealthy, hotheaded father. The story, narrated by Quvenzhané herself, is expressed through Hushpuppy’s vivid imagination and childlike perspective. As such, the movie feels both like a documentary-style drama and a fairy-tale-like fantasy. The result is one of the most unique and original films to grace the silver screen. With a well-written, heartfelt story, sharp direction by first-time feature film director Benh Zeitlin, fantastic performances by its cast and a soul-stirring musical score that should have been nominated for an Oscar (in my honest opinion), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” definitely deserves its Best Picture nomination. I just hope that they pronounce Quvenzhané’s name correctly when they start announcing Best Actress nominees though.  4 out of 5 stars.

 

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“DJANGO UNCHAINED” – Also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing and Best Original Screenplay

 

Since I recently stated that “Django Unchained” fucking RULES, there’s no need for me to state the obvious again. But I will say this much: this film deserves to win the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award tonight. I’m just saying. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

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“LIFE OF PI” – Also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Music), Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay

 

One of my favourite films of 2012, as I eloquently stated in my Top 10 Best Films of 2012 list, and well deserving of the Best Visual Effects Academy Award tonight. If you still don’t know what the movie is about, or you’re wondering how I can love a film about a boy and a tiger on a lifeboat, then feel free to check out my review for the film. I’ll wait.  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

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“LES MISERABLES” –   Also nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing

 

Here is one of the more better musical films I’ve seen in recent years, since musical films nowadays involve uninteresting to shitty narratives (*COUGH*Rock of Ages*COUGH), lip-synched covers of popular songs (*COUGH*Rock of Ages*COUGH) and questionable casting choices (*COUGH*Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages*COUGH*). “Les Miserables” makes the bold decision to have its actors sing on-set during their performances (similar to the legendary stage musical of the same name), avoiding the need for post-production syncing. The cast, which consists of Hugh Jackman (who’s going up for Best Actor – ain’t that some shit?), Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress), Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe (yes, ladies and gents, Mr. Gladiator himself), sing to their heart’s content in this film. Matter of fact, the dialogue for the ENTIRE FILM, with the exception of a few sparse lines of normal speaking, are sung. If you approach “Les Miserables” with an open mind and a closed mouth (since nobody wants to fucking hear you sing “Suddenly”, the song nominated for Best Original Song – in case you were wondering), you’ll be rewarded with a compelling story, exquisite cinematography, great performances (especially from Hugh Jackman, who literally owns this movie) throughout, and a shit-ton of great singing (passable singing from Russell Crowe though). However, the film is far from perfect. The film’s near-three-hour running time gets to you after a while, especially in the pacing department. And the singing, while nice to listen to, comes off as unintentionally campy and cheesy in certain scenes (some of which involve a certain gladiator named Russell Crowe – no offense). Overall, if you love musicals, especially those with grandiose and emotion, then you’ll love the Les out of “Les Miserables”.  But even if you hate musicals, you should find something to enjoy – whether it’s watching Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) sing or laughing at Russell Crowe as he….umm…..sings. And while the film is ridiculously over-rated (ADMIT IT! It is!), it does have one of the finest performances from Anne Hathaway. Look at her heart-rending rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” if you think I’m lying. But if you do know that song, please don’t sing it. ‘Cause nobody wants to fucking hear you sing that either! 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

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“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” –  Also nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay

 

Of all the films in this year’s Best Picture nominee list, “Silver Linings Playbook” is the most relatable. Even if you don’t suffer from bipolar disorder (like Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s respective characters do), or you don’t know anyone who suffers from it, you can easily sympathize with these two neurotic, flawed individuals. Bradley Cooper plays Patrizio Solitano Jr., a guy who, after being released from a mental health facility, is determined to reconcile with his estranged wife and get his life back on track. “If you work hard, you have a shot at a silver lining”, he says in one scene. But for Patrizio, finding the “silver linings” will become more complicated than expected when he meets his friend’s sister-in-law, Tiffany Maxwell (Lawrence), who’s just as neurotic as he is.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, impressive actors in their own right, bring their A-game to this film. The supporting cast is great as well. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver deliver strong performances as the OCD-diagnosed father and the concerned-for-my-son’s-welfare mother of Patrizio respectively. And Chris Tucker (remember him?), was great as Patrizio’s humourous friend Danny. Combined with a script that’s sharp, witty and full of heart, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a brilliant dramedy/rom-com that, despite its serious subject matter, will leave you with a smile on your face. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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“LINCOLN” –  Also nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director

 

Look into a mirror and say “Tonight, Daniel-Day-Lewis will win the Academy Award for Best Actor” three times and it’ll happen. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

What?! I did say I’m doing mini-reviews, right?!

 

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“ZERO DARK THIRTY” –  Also nominated for Best Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Screenplay

 

The second over-rated movie on this list, and the most over-hyped, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a really good thriller but it’s far from great. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (who made the war thriller “The Hurt Locker” which won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars in 2009), this film gives a dramatized account of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden following the September 11th 2001 attacks. Jessica Chastain plays the film’s sole protagonist Maya, a CIA agent involved in gathering intelligence related to the whereabouts of Bin Laden. She is present throughout most of the film, while the supporting cast – which includes Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton and James Gandolfini (a.k.a. everyone’s favourite Mafia dad, Tony Soprano) – either show up periodically or sporadically, depending on the character. Unfortunately, none of these characters – not even Jessica Chastain’s – are well-developed enough to give a fuck about them. In this film, characters do actions but it’s never quite clear why (except that it’s their “job”). Take Jason Clarke’s character for example. Within the first 20 minutes of the film, he brutally tortures a detainee with links to Saudi Arabian terrorists. Why? Because he needs to get as much info on the location of the terrorists as possible. But how does he feel about torturing this guy? It’s never said. I will admit it was a smart move on Kathryn Bigelow’s part to show the contrast between Jason’s violent, machismo-fueled methods and Jessica’s reasonable, non-violent approach to uncovering information from the detainees. Kathryn’s study of the male ego has been the subject of her most well-known films like the BAD-ASS action film “Point Break” and the aforementioned “The Hurt Locker”.  And while it’s great to have the protagonist of this film be a strong, dedicated woman,  her character would have stood out so much more if it were developed better.

 

However, the film gets points for its emphasis on detail (i.e. procedures, planning, decisions made etc.) and making each scene feel as authentic as possible. There are a number of moments in this film (none of which I’ll spoil) that will make you jump out of your seat. This is in part to the film’s brilliant editing, which actually deserves its nomination. The performances are great, especially by Jessica Chastain who has no choice but to steal the show from everyone else. Even the uncredited guy who plays the dead Bin Laden (oops…spoiler alert) was great. Just kidding, guys! And the last 20 minutes (which nearly every reviewer will say is one of the most intense movie sequences of 2012) is indeed intense, but you’ll be wishing that you didn’t have to sit through 2 hours of build-up just to see it. In the end, while it isn’t as perfect as some people may have you believe, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a well-directed, well-acted and well-written thriller and a worthy addition to the still-impressive filmography of Kathryn Bigelow.  3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

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“ARGO” –  Also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Music), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Adapted Screenplay

 

Ben Affleck’s ‘magnum opus’ (for now, that is, if he maintains his directorial talent,  “Argo”  has the earmarks of a classic Hollywood thriller from the 70s (right down to the old Warner Brothers logo that opens the film). At the same time, it tells an extraordinary story (“based on real events”, of course) of a CIA-based mission to rescue a group of Americans during the hostage crisis in Iran, using a fake sci-fi movie called ‘Argo’ as its cover. I praised the film last year (check out my review) and added it to my Top 10 Best Films list.  After watching it recently before writing this post, my views haven’t changed. Undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2012, “Argo” is my pick for Best Picture of the Year. In the words of Alan Arkin (who’s going up for Best Supporting Actor tonight): “Argo fuck yourself”4 out of 5 stars.

 

CLOSING WORDS: While I could use this section to write some last words on my views of the Best Picture nominees, I’d much rather conclude today’s proceedings with a quote that best expresses the significance of Ben Affleck’s nomination and hopeful victory in tonight’s Oscar ceremony:

 

“You shouldn’t be able to be good-looking, and be with Jennifer Lopez, and be a good director! Alright, Alright, fine! Argo is a good movie! There, I admitted it! I told people it didn’t hold up, but it holds up, gosh darn it! Ben Affleck has everything, grah!”

– Butters: “South Park”

 

Well said, Butters. Well said.

 

– Matthew

See this movie before you die – “The Godfather” (1972)

For the two of you keeping score, I haven’t written a 5-star review on my blog since my EPIC (at least to me) Dark Knight Trilogy post last year. And I haven’t written about a film from the 1970s since my 2011 review of the original (and far superior than its forgettable-ass remake) “Straw Dogs”, and to a certain extent, last year’s “Movies that go BUMP in the night” post as well. With this post however, I plan to metaphorically kill two endangered birds with one shotgun. In keeping with the theme of the Oscars, I’ll be reviewing a Best Picture Academy Award winner that’s actually the first in a film trilogy widely considered to be one of film history’s most influential and iconic: the Godfather Trilogy.

 

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the 1969 crime novel “The Godfather” written by Italian-American author Mario Puzo (who assisted Francis in the screenplay for each film), the Godfather Trilogy (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974) and The Godfather, Part III (1990)) begins with the transition of power within a New York crime family from father to son in the mid-40s, continues with the transformation of the son into a ruthless Mafia boss in the late-50s, and ends with him tragically facing the consequences of his past transgressions in the late-70s. Starring the late, great Marlon Brando as the patriarch Vito Corleone and Al Pacino (a.k.a. everyone’s favourite coke-snorting, cock-a-roach burying, don’t give a fuck – ing, Cuban immigrant turned drug kingpin “Scarface”) as his son Michael Corleone and the main protagonist of the entire trilogy.

 

Both The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II won Academy Awards for Best Picture (obviously), Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Godfather, Part II also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, which was given to no other but Robert DeNiro (nominated this year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Silver Linings Playbook”), who played a young Vito Corleone. However, The Godfather, Part III, which was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Editing, Original Song and Art Direction, didn’t win SHIT at the 1991 Academy Awards! The Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars were snatched by a little film directed by and starring Kevin Costner called “Dances with Wolves”. And in retrospect, it was a really good movie, but it’s nowhere close to the sheer awesomeness that is….. (drumroll please)

 

“Goodfellas”, Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus, the one that re-defined the Mafia movie after Francis Coppola created the blueprint with the first two Godfather films, and in case you were wondering, one of my all-time favourite movies. But let’s get back to the subject at hand. The first two Godfather films are praised by film lovers the world over, and hailed as two of the greatest films ever made. The third, and admittedly weakest, film in the trilogy, has gained a bad reputation for being one of the worst “threequels” (not a real word, people) ever made (like “X-Men: The Last Stand”, “The Matrix Revolutions” and “Spider-Man 3” to name a few). How a revered film franchise like The Godfather Trilogy was able to rise to the top and fall so far from grace (just like Michael Corleone – ironically) will be debated for years to come.  But for the purpose of this write-up, this review is all about the one that started it all – the grandpappy, or should I say godpappy, of gangster films…..(drumroll again please. I said drumroll, motherfucker!)

 

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“THE GODFATHER” –  Part Uno of the trilogy begins during a lavish wedding reception for Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) only daughter Connie (Talia Shire, or as Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” anthology calls her: “ADRIAAAAAAAN!!”). As Vito is the Godfather, he spends his time in his office, hearing requests from various individuals. Outside, his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a Marine and WWII hero, introduces his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to his family, and gives her a glimpse into the inner workings of his father’s crime family. “That’s my family. Not me” says Michael as a response to Kay’s stunned expression. Apart from Vito, Michael, Connie and Kay, some of the film’s major characters are introduced in the wedding reception: Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), Vito’s adopted son and official consigliere or adviser; Sonny (James Caan), Vito’s eldest son; Fredo (John Cazale), Vito’s second oldest son; Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), Vito’s enforcer; Salvatore Tessio (Abe Vigoda) and Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano), two of Vito’s old partners-in-crime and official “capos” or “made men” in the Corleone crime family.

 

Anyhoo, drug kingpin Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), backed by the Tattaglias (rivals of the Corleones), asks Vito for financial support and political protection for his business. Vito doesn’t want anything to do with drugs or the drug trade (imagine the day a fucking gangster becomes a spokesperson for an anti-drug campaign, folks. Hmmmm) and refuses Virgil’s request. Luca, sent to spy on Virgil and the Tattaglias, ends up “sleeping with the fishes” LITERALLY (Google search this term and you’re bound to see his name pop up. That’s how synonymous Luca Brasi’s name has become with fish, sleep and Ambien, apparently). But everything changes when the Tattaglias attempt to assassinate Vito, and Michael decides to take revenge. What follows is a moral journey where family ties are tested, traitors are revealed and retaliation becomes bloody. And in the end, Michael, who initially refused to get himself involved in the family business, becomes the new Godfather and Don of the Corleone crime family.

 

“The Godfather” is about many things. It could be viewed as a look into the dark side of the ‘American Dream’ and the pursuit of it by violent means. Also, in a sense, it shows the destructive nature of retaliation, which has been, and still remains, the basis of modern warfare. But the film’s true theme is family. Now don’t get me wrong: the film is called “The Godfather”. It’s not like “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos” (a TV show that owes its successful-as-fuck six-season run to the foundation created by the Godfather Trilogy in terms of the Mafia film sub-genre) where there’s more than one person in the title. The Godfather himself is the centerpiece of the entire film. But as I mentioned earlier, the power of the Corleone crime family is passed on from Vito to Michael. And as such, both Vito and Michael assume the role of the film’s protagonist. Through a superbly written script by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, two stories are actually being told within the same time frame: the fall of Vito and the rise of Michael. But the events of the film, and the way in which each is set up and executed, are constructed so well that it’s easy to get swept away with the overall story of the film and forget that it’s really about two men.

 

Getting the obvious out of the way, the acting in this film is fucking PHENOMENAL! Marlon Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone is iconic in every sense of the word. The subtle mannerisms that Brando exudes out of his character (consider the close-up of his face in a heartbreaking scene in the film, where he looks at the dead body of one of his sons (I won’t say who. You probably know who it is anyway) and utters “Look how they massacred my boy”) embody the technique of method acting that made him a legend. His raspy voice, puffy cheeks and famous lines that he delivers (his most memorable one being, of course, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”) have been imitated for decades since the film’s release. But also to his character, Brando brings a sense of deep-rooted wisdom that comes with age. He regularly gives advice to his sons and associates and, with a gangsta-like sixth sense (Instead of “I see dead people”, he should be saying “I see people I want DEAD!”), is capable of spotting betrayal from a mile away. Al Pacino is excellent as Michael Corleone, and his character transition from that of an unconcerned man to the tyrannical ruler of his father’s criminal empire gives the story an almost Shakespearean feel. The supporting cast is great as well. James Caan’s Sonny Corleone is a hothead, and dare I say, a BADASS! As the most impulsive of the Corleone sons, he gets pissed off rather easily. There’s a famous scene where Sonny beats the SHIT out of his brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) on the street, in broad daylight, for abusing Connie. Old-school ass whoopin’ never looked better than in that scene! Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen is the opposite. He’s calm, resourceful and acts like a silent observer over the family’s decision-making. Diane Keaton plays Kay Adams with enough sympathy that you can’t help but feel sorry for her when Michael, the love of her life, slowly slips away from her fingertips.  But despite the imperfections of the Corleone family (and boy, is there a fucking lot), they are generally sympathetic characters. They’re not presented as evil people, but as a family born out of a cycle of violence that originated from their ancestral home in Corleone, Sicily, where young Vito was born and where he adopted his surname (in case you were wondering). It’s both understandable and ironic that after Michael commits his first major crime during one of the film’s major turning points, he would choose that place for his self-exile.

 

The cinematography by Gordon Willis is impressive by today’s standards. The shadowy interiors and vivid, brightly-lit exteriors help create a visual contrast between the closeted world of the Mafia and a developing America of the 1950s. Also, the buildings, industries and hustle-and-bustle of New York City are contrasted with the beautiful, quiet, community-based town of Corleone  The direction by Francis Ford Coppola and the editing by Peter Zinner and William H. Reynolds are near-flawless. The film’s memorable climax for example, in which scenes of Connie’s son being christened (and where Michael stands as Godfather) are inter-cut with the bloody murders of all Vito’s enemies, is a classic example of direction and editing working perfectly in sync. And what’s a review about “The Godfather” without the music? Nino Rota’s score for the film is TIMELESS! The music matches perfectly with the emotions present in each scene it’s used in, from joy and love to tension and sadness.  Even if you haven’t seen the film, you probably must have heard the famous “Godfather Waltz” main theme song on some other movie, or TV show, or cartoon, or local news report, or porno flick (if you’re into that XXX parody shit). But when you do, and you can mark my words, it’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of your life! When you die, the last song on your head may very well be the “Love Theme for the Godfather”. Or Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”….but that’s if you die outside a nightclub – God forbid.

 

Now before I give my verdict on “The Godfather”, I must inform you (or remind you) that the film is exactly 175 minutes long. And I know what you’re thinking. Matter of fact, I can write out what you’re thinking:

 

“175 MINUTES?! REALLY?! OH MY GOD, THAT IS LIKE, SOOOOOO LONG! I CAN’T SIT THROUGH A THREE-HOUR MOVIE? ARE YOU CRAZY?! HOW COULD ANYBODY SIT THROUGH THAT? I COULD NEVER SIT THROUGH A THREE-HOUR MOVIE LIKE…..Wait, what did you just say? They’re showing “Titanic” on TV? OH MY GOD, THAT IS LIKE, MY FAVOURITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME! I CAN DEFINITELY SIT THROUGH THAT MOVIE! LEO DiCAPRIO! WHOOOOOO!!!” (NOTE: You can replace “Titanic” and Leo’s name with any one of the Lord of the Rings films and any actor/actress from the franchise if you’d like. I’m just sayin’).

 

And the point of that paragraph is:-

Unless you genuinely hate epic dramas or gangster films, have a low tolerance level for films that go beyond the two-hour mark, or suffer from A.D.D., “The Godfather” is undoubtedly a must-see movie. It’s like….the law! You just HAVE to see this movie! If you truly call yourself a movie lover, you MUST see this film. It has a great story, great acting, great music, memorable scenes, quotable dialogue and of course, glorious scenes of R-rated violence that one expects from a crime movie from the 70s. It’s been hailed as one of the greatest films in world cinema. It’s ranked as the second greatest American film ever made. It absolutely refuses to leave the No. 2 spot at the IMDB Top 250 list. And it stands as one of my all-time favourite films. What more should I say except:

 

MY RATING:

“THE GODFATHER” – 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)

– Matthew

Oscar Nominees – “A Royal Affair” (2012), “Searching For Sugar Man” (2012) & “The Invisible War” (2012)

As you can plainly see, I’ve kept my part of the bargain. I promised last week that I’ll be doing write-ups on the Oscar nominees, and this post that you’re looking at….or glancing at…..or skimming through to the end is the first. Which means that now I have about a week to watch the nominated films that I failed to see earlier, and review the ones that I didn’t write about in my blog as yet.

 

Fuck, this is gonna be a hectic week.

 

But have no fear, lady and gent. These write-ups will be up before the Academy Awards ceremony next Sunday. I won’t make the same mistake as I did with last month’s Golden Globes, where I could have written about the Best Picture nominees for that event, but ended up watching Les Miserables and Silver Linings Playbook on the weekend of that event (shame on me, I know), and literally ran out of time before I could write anything about them. Fortunately, both films have made it to the Best Picture nominees of the Academy Awards, so you can expect a review of each in my special Best Picture Oscar Nominee write-up coming next week.

 

Anyhoo, today’s post deals with three films: one nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, and the other two nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Foreign Language?! Documentary?! Are you fucking kidding me?! Those are BORING-ASS movies! They’re ALWAYS boring-ass movies! You should be reviewing some shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, say-a-catchphrase-before-annihilating-a-motherfucker action flick like “A Good Day to Die Hard” or some adaptation-of-a-Nicholas-Sparks-novel-that-will-indefinitely-be-bullshit movie like “Safe Haven”, or some well-it’s-based-on-a-YA-novel-so-it-could-be-as-big-as-Twilight-if-we-try-hard-enough teen fantasy movie like “Beautiful Creatures”! Firstly, keeping in mind that all three films came out this week, I have no aim of seeing “Safe Haven” anytime this decade (unless I’m really looking for a film to pick on/humiliate/bash the hell out of). Secondly, I have no aim of seeing “Beautiful Creatures” anytime for the next few months until a screener copy comes out online and I download it and it collects virtual dust on my hard drive, and then before Christmas, I realize it’s there and I say “Holy shit! I forgot I downloaded that movie” and I delete it just so I can make room for “The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct” if it comes out by then. And despite the MONUMENTALLY negative reviews it has been receiving since Ash Wednesday (one day before its release on Valentine’s Day of all days), I am keen on seeing “A Good Day to Die Hard”, just so I can pick on/humiliate/bash the hell out of it as well.

 

But seriously though, the Best Foreign Language and Best Documentary Feature Academy Awards have been awarded to a number of great films throughout the years, and even its nominees have been praised for their subject matter and approach to their respective genres. And I am aware of the excuses why these types of films are despised by some people: “too long”; “too boring”; “I hate reading subtitles”; “I watch movies to escape reality. Not see it in front of me” etc. etc.  For those people who may be reading this, I understand why you’d think that, and I have no intentions to change your mind. If you don’t like foreign language films and/or documentaries, that’s your opinion. If your preferences are English-language films and fiction films, that’s also your opinion. But I am here to review two documentaries and a foreign language film (three great movies in their own right), and that’s exactly what I will do. You can take from it what you will.

 

Now that that’s settled, let’s get into some movie reviews!

 

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“A ROYAL AFFAIR” –  We kick things off Denmark’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category. Directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel (who helped co-write the original Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – which I actually preferred over the American remake in 2011), “A Royal Affair” is a historical film draped in the expensive fabric of a costume drama. Set in 18th century Denmark, during the intellectual cultural movement known as the Age of Enlightenment, the story is centered on Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander) of Great Britain, who was the Queen of Denmark and Norway (I know, right! England, Denmark AND Norway! How could she be Queen of all 3 countries? Now that’s just weird).  Just kidding, people.  At age 15, she’s sent to Denmark to marry her cousin (I know, right! Marrying her cousin, man? Eeeeew, that’s nasty!), Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). Christian VII is missing a few jewels in his crown, which is my way of saying the guy’s a CRAZY motherfucker! He’s spoiled, immature, vulgar, erratic and rumoured to be a homosexual. To quell those rumours, the royal couple have a son. Count Johann Struensee (Mads Mikklesen, better known as the villain Le Chiffre in the AWESOME 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale”), a German doctor, is hired to be Christian’s personal physician. They form an uneasy friendship. While Christian’s madness and sexual frustration with Caroline divides them emotionally, Caroline slowly falls for Johann. And so, a secret love affair begins between Caroline and Johann. When the affair is revealed, the nation of Demark is plunged into a political revolution that will change the lives of Johann, Christian and Caroline forever.

 

Going into this film, I had no idea what the story was about. I just knew – through word of mouth – that it was a great movie and I had to watch it.While I’m not a fan of costume dramas (the only two exceptions being the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, and personal fave of mine, “Barry Lyndon” and the equally-underrated Martin Scorsese period piece “The Age of Innocence”), I must admit that I did enjoy “A Royal Affair” a lot more than I expected. The three main leads (Alicia, Mikkel and Mads) deliver strong performances throughout the film. For some reason, Alicia reminded me of Keira Knightley (maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s just the way she looks. She was quite pretty, by the way), who, if you know your costume drama history, has starred in films of that caliber before. It’s ironic that both Alicia and Keira star in the costume drama “Anna Karenina”, which is nominated this year for 4 Academy Awards. I haven’t yet seen this film, but if you ask nicely, I probably will review it very soon. Mikkel, in his debut feature film performance, is impressive as the mad King, playing a character that you will be repulsed by, amused by, amazed by and feel pity for (sometimes all at once). Casting Mads was a true stroke of genius by director Nikolaj Arcel, as his face alone speaks volumes about the thoughts and emotions of his character Johann. The production design by Manon Rasmussen, costume design by Manon Rasmussen and moody cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk earn the film serious points. The film carefully blends historic drama, political tension and social commentary on the aristocracy with romance (and a few titillating sex scenes), humour and human emotion. The story, while enthralling and well-written, is long and runs a bit slow at times. But in terms of the tension and emotional weight of the story, the slow pace is a minor issue. In the end, “A Royal Affair” is a worthy contender for this year’s Foreign Language Film category. If you love your period piece films with romance, scandal, politics and batshit crazy Kings, then you’ll have a ball with this film. And even though it’s destined to lose next Sunday to the French-language film “Amour” (which is also nominated for Best Picture, by the way), “A Royal Affair” is still worth checking out. WARNING: Learning how to speak Danish may or may not affect your enjoyment of this film.

 

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“SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN” – For these two reviews, I’ll keep each of them a paragraph long since I don’t want to explain too much about the films. Besides, I’d like you to see for yourself how the stories in both films develop (since they’re documentaries and all that). The first, and one of the most talked-about documentaries of 2012, is “Searching for Sugar Man” directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul. It tells the story of the myth surrounding the “mysterious”, and relatively unknown, American folk musician Rodriguez. Though Rodriguez’s music was unappreciated in the States during his short career in the 1970s, his two studio albums were widely received in South Africa (largely due to their anti-establishment lyrics). During work on his third album, Rodriguez apparently committed suicide on-stage during a performance. But did that really happen? And if not, what did happen to Rodriguez? Two Cape Town fans of Rodriguez seek to determine whether his death was true, and if not, learn the truth behind his sudden disappearance from the music world. And here we have our movie. “Searching for Sugar Man” tells two stories: an up-and-coming rock star and his quest to attain fame and recognition, and two men whose lives were affected by this mythical rock star’s music and their search to discover the man behind the myth. The film blends interesting interviews, exquisite cinematography, archival photos, stylish camerawork and creative use of animation into a seamless whole, guided by songs from Rodriguez himself. On the subject of songs, Rodriguez’s music is really fucking good! Seriously! The song “Sugar Man” (which was famously used in Nas’ brilliant rap song “You’re Da Man”) will be stuck in your head after you see this film. Trust me! Matter of fact, after you see this film, you should check out the soundtrack for it. I plan to  – if I could find a good torrent*COUGH*  Anyways, my only quarrel in the film is the extensive use of dolly shots during a few of the film’s *AHEM* “mythical” scenes. It gave the film a feature film look, and felt unnecessary for the “routine” moments presented on-screen. Apart from that, everything else works. From start to finish, “Searching for Sugar Man” is a thoughtful, and quite fascinating, discovery into the life and music of an extraordinary musician. I can see this film winning the Oscar next Sunday, but it will face heavy opposition from….

 

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“THE INVISIBLE WAR” – ….another talked-about documentary of 2012, hailed by many to be the best documentary of last year. Written and directed by Kirby Dick (who made the excellent, NC-17 rated documentary on the MPAA rating system – “This Film is Not Yet Rated” – in 2006), this film touches on the controversial topic of sexual assault in the United States military. Female veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, all of them victims of rape and sexual violence, are interviewed. A few of them are documented, as they try to seek a better life for themselves amidst the trauma that they continually suffer from. The statistics illustrated in the film (which are from U.S. Government Studies) are just as shocking as the personal stories of abuse shared by the interviewees. What’s even worse is that the military system turns its back on the victims, dismissing claims of rape due to lack of evidence and avoidance of slandering the names of the perpetrators. And just when I thought the film was all about women being the victims, it took an unexpected turn when they interviewed men who were also sexually assaulted in the military. Really! I did not see that coming! “The Invisible War” uses archival footage, news footage, cinema verite (or ‘truthful cinema’) documentary techniques and compelling subjects (i.e. interviewees) to tell its multi-layered story. But the film truly excels in its interviews, which are both informative and devastating. This film tugs at your heartstrings, so be forewarned: if you cry easily, you will shed tears while watching it. But if you don’t cry easily, the interviewees’ stories themselves will break your heart. “The Invisible War” is, in my honest opinion, one of the most powerful documentaries I’ve seen in recent years, and well-deserving of this year’s Best Documentary Academy Award.  Even if the film loses to “Searching for Sugar Man” or any of the other three nominees (“5 Broken Cameras”, “The Gatekeepers” and “How to Survive a Plague”), it stands as a bold, daring documentary that sweeps away cover-ups and false allegations of years gone by, and digs deep into a matter that should continually be addressed and eradicated.  Highly recommended.

 

MY RATING:

“A ROYAL AFFAIR” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“THE INVISIBLE WAR” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

– Matthew

Plans for World Domination

As everyone in Trinidad and Tobago (myself included) is realizing at this point in time,  the Carnival season is in full swing. And while the talk for this weekend will be the victories of the over-ambitious Machel Montano and the iconic Super Blue in the 2013 Soca Monarch Finals, I’ll be preparing myself mentally for what’s to come for the rest of the month.

 

In case you forgot or stopped caring, the Academy Awards ceremony is indeed drawing near. To celebrate this occasion, I plan on running a number of Oscar-related write-ups (what number it is, I won’t say, but I can definitely say it’ll be more than one. Tee hee). You can expect another “You Got Snubbed, Yo!” post (since I thoroughly enjoyed writing the previous one), and I will keep my personal promise to write a post dedicated to the Best Picture nominees. Also, I’ll also write about some of the other nominees (more particularly those vying for the Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories). As an added bonus, I plan to run a few write-ups dedicated to my favourite movies that either won the Best Picture Academy Award or lost to a film that, in retrospect, hardly holds up.

 

Finally, in the tradition of other blogs dedicated to reviews, and to make my blog a hell of a lot more interesting than it is, I’ll attempt a death-defying feat; From this point on, I’ll be accepting requests from you, the readers out there, to review the films that you’d love to see me write about. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen! Let me know what film you’ll like me to review, and I’ll make sure to write about it in the future (provided that I can locate the film, get the time to watch it, and stomach it without puking, cracking the monitor screen of my laptop in anger or shooting myself in the head, that is).

 

As you can tell by these “plans for world domination”, shit is about to go down in the Legally Black Blog. But I accept this challenge wholeheartedly, and I will act accordingly. Besides, I really need to get back into writing anyway, and you guys need to know what good movies there are out there in the world. So hey, everyone wins!  But trust me, after a much-needed Carnival recharge, I will resume work on my blog. So to my readers out there in cyberspace, enjoy the Carnival holidays, stay safe and look out for the great movies that will be hitting theaters afterwards.

 

Speaking of which, I also plan to write about “Warm Bodies” and “A Good Day to Die Hard”, two movies that you KNOW I want to write about anyway. But don’t worry. All good things come to those who wait (cue evil, megalomaniac laughter).

 

– Matthew