August 17, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. When we think of public figures retiring, we typically accept that athletes, politicians and entertainers will no longer be honing their craft or grinding in their profession. Perhaps they will write their memoirs, or even dodge TMZ completely by spending their days fishing or playing golf. When Oscar winning film director Steven Soderbergh announced he was “retiring” from making movies after his 2013 SIDE EFFECTS, he simply transitioned to television (excellence in “The Knick”). Most of us assumed it was only a matter of time until he returned to the medium that made him famous. This “retirement” lasted less than 4 years.

When a line in the film describes it as “Ocean’s 7-11”, we can assume this is Mr. Soderbergh admitting that his “Ocean’s” trilogy was the inspiration for this comedy-satire heist film focusing on a well-planned crime by a team of siblings, rednecks and convicts. Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough star as the Logan clan – Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie, respectively. With NASCAR as the target, the Logans are joined by the Bangs: Sam (Brian Gleeson), Fish (Jack Quaid), and Joe (a scene-stealing bleached blonde Daniel Craig).

Joining in the unconventional Hicksville fun are Katie Holmes and David Denman as Jimmy’s ex-wife and her new husband, a recently shorn Sebastian Stan as a race car driver, Seth MacFarlane as an obnoxiously rich blow-hard, Katherine Waterston in a too-brief role as a traveling medic, Hilary Swank as a determined FBI Agent, and Dwight Yoakum as a prison warden who rarely admits a problem. Also playing a key role is the music of John Denver … a move that teeters between tribute and punchline.

The set up and characters lend themselves to more laughter than we actually experience. There are more awkward moments than hilarious ones. As examples, brother Clyde’s (Driver) artificial hand is the center of focus on a few occasions, as are Joe Bang’s (Craig) expertise in science, and the small town West Virginia addiction to child beauty pageants. Their racetrack robbery plan is both ingenious and preposterous, which is also a fitting description of the film.

A writing credit goes to “Rebecca Blunt”, which in keeping with Soderbergh’s tradition, is a pseudonym (or nom de plume) for an unnamed writer (likely Soderbergh himself). The film mostly succeeds in delivering the opposite of the traditional Ocean’s slickness, and it’s entertaining to watch Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig (the credits list him as “introducing Daniel Craig) having such a good time on screen. While it doesn’t deliver the laughs of FREE FIRE or TALLADEGA NIGHTS, it is nice to have Soderbergh back where he belongs. Rather than an instant classic, it’s more likely to be remembered for Soderbergh’s attempt to change the movie distribution channels … Google can provide the details if you are interested.

watch the trailer:



OSCARS recap (2013)

February 25, 2013

oscars5Seth MacFarlane was awesome!”  “Seth MacFarlane sucks!”  “Who is Seth MacFarlane?”

No matter which of the above reactionary groups you fall into, the members of the Academy are beside themselves with happiness today.  You might ask why.  The simple answer is RATINGS!  TV Ratings in the coveted 18-49 demo jumped up 19% over last year.  However, since you and I are not in the TV ratings business, it’s more fun to discuss The Oscars from our perspective as viewers and movie lovers.

As previously stated in my Oscar Predictions, outside of a couple of “no brainers”, this was a particularly difficult year to predict.  No single movie was positioned to “run the table” and in fact, nine different films were named winners in 18 different categories featuring wide releases.  Life of Pi led the way with 4 Oscars; Argo and Les Miserables had three each; Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Skyfall had two apiece; and Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty and Anna Karenina each had one.  Bruce, a loyal and informed blog follower from San Antonio, pointed out the rare result of a different film winning for each of the “Big 6” categories: Best Picture (Argo), Best oscar3Director (Life of Pi), Best Actor (Lincoln), Best Actress (Silver Linings Playbook), Supporting Actor (Django Unchained), Supporting Actress (Les Miserables). Given all of this, I feel quite satisfied with correctly predicting 19 of the 24 categories.

In addition to host Seth MacFarlane, also new to the Oscar presentation were show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.  They were Executive Producers on Best Picture winner Chicago (2002).  There was an awkward pre-show opening with Chicago star Queen Latifah, followed by a bizarre gag with William Shatner appearing from the future as Captain Kirk from Star Trek … evidently the purpose of which was to make advance apologies for a weak show that was just beginning.  Later, an inordinate amount of stage time was allowed for a Chicago musical number by Catherine Zeta-Jones; and then Mark Wahlberg and the bear (voiced by MacFarlane) from MacFarlane’s summer hit Ted took to the stage.  If all that wasn’t enough, the Chicago cast reunited to present two awards.  While we are accustomed to excessive narcissism in Hollywood, but this was just too much “Hey, look at oscars4me!”

My favorite performance of the evening was when 76 year old Shirley Bassey brought the full house to their feet with her rendering of the great James Bond theme from Goldfinger.  Her still powerful voice saved the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Bond franchise (after a weak montage), and later Adele delivered a soulful version of the Skyfall theme, the first Best Original Song winner from a Bond film.

Other good and not so good (I’ll leave it to you to categorize as you wish):

* Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) became the first 3 time Best Actor winner, and gave a very classy and gracious acceptance speech

* Barbra Streisand performed on the Oscar stage for the first time in 36 years

* Sally Field got her moment in the spotlight thanks to a strange segment paying tribute to her old TV show “The Flying Nun” (1967-70)

* Seth MacFarlane served up tasteless jokes on Chris Brown/Rhianna (neither a movie actor) and Abraham Lincoln (the President, not the movie).

* Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to actors and also proclaimed this the year of the writer

* Ang Lee showed again what a nice man he is, though he missed an opportunity to show support for Rhythm and Hues

* There was no shortage of Oscar winning men with hair longer than Alexander Gudunov in Die Hard (1988)

* Tommy Lee Jones smiled on camera less than 2 minutes into the ceremony

* The Sound Editing category produced just the 6th TIE in Oscar history

* Anne Hathaway purred “It came true” … the most contrived prepared line of the evening

* The producer of the Oscar winning Animated Short Film Paperman was ejected from the ceremony … for throwing paper airplanes (a key component in the film)

* Ben Affleck stated no matter how many times you get knocked down, what matters is getting back up … proof that millionaire movie stars think starring in a bad movie (Gigli) or two (Jersey Girl) or three (Daredevil) actually qualifies as getting knocked down.

* The first Oscars featuring sock monkeys in an integrated cockpit

* Nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) spoke for women everywhere when she admitted selecting her dress because “it was sparkly and fluffy” (she accessorized with a puppy purse!)

* Ann Rutherford starred in 60+ movies, including Gone with the Wind but didn’t warrant inclusion during the In Memoriam section

* Andy Griffith starred in one of Elia Kazan’s finest movies (A Face in the Crowd) but didn’t warrant inclusion during the In Memoriam section

* Harvey Weinstein flexed his enormous Hollywood power-player muscles and arranged for First Lady Michelle Obama to present the Best Picture Oscar from the White House … A perfect ending to a show that, at times, seemed to treat movies as an afterthought.

After The Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel ran a tribute/spoof of Life of Pi that featured singer Psy:




February 23, 2013

oscars1 Every year I boldly offer up my Oscar predictions prior to the ceremony.  This seems like a good year to rant a bit about my perception of the Academy Awards. As a guy who spends an inordinate amount of time in movie theatres, and then takes that obsession even further by spending hours writing about those movies, I’ll admit that I enjoy the Academy Awards ceremony as a celebration of movies.  That said, what I find absurd is the “competition” and the ridiculous designation of “Best” in any category.  I view movies as an art form and while I often select my FAVORITE movies, I find judging the “best” to be as ridiculous as selecting the best sculpture or painting. Admittedly, I feel the same about Olympic sports that are decided by a panel of judges.  When judging is involved, then opinions are involved.  When opinions are involved, then politics and personal vendettas become involved. Whatever your feelings toward Hollywood, you probably acknowledge no shortage of opinions, politics and vendettas in that world.  To think that these emotional, artistic beings can be objective when voting is naïve at best.  Enough of the rant, let’s discuss the movies!

It was a huge year at the box office.  Six of the nine “Best Picture” nominations have gone over $100 million at the domestic box office, and another, Zero Dark Thirty, is almost there. As a comparison, of last year’s nominations, only The Help reached $100 million domestically. Most surprising, the indie hit Beasts of the Southern Wild actually provided the best financial return of all the nominees, as its $12.5 million box office is 8 times its measly production cost of only $1.5 million (over 700% return!).  Life of Pi is approaching $600 million worldwide, while Les Miserables and Django Unchained are nearing $400 million. What’s really impressive about these numbers is that none of the nominated films cracked the Top 10 Worldwide Box Office for 2012 releases.  Three movies eclipsed the $1 Billion mark: The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises (plus, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will get there in the next couple of weeks).  In all, 69 releases went over the $100 million mark in worldwide box office.

So let’s talk Oscars.  There are a few “obvious” picks, but an unusually high number of categories that could go two or three different ways.  There will be surprises and it’s a very challenging year for predictions; but that doesn’t frighten me … especially since I have nothing at stake. Some specifics of the Oscar politics this year include the scandals revolving around the three historical dramas: Lincoln, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty. Somehow the dramatic license taken by Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty has created a storm of controversy for those films, while the Hollywood-created climax to Argo has it being adopted like a wet puppy.  Similarly, a “Saturday Night Live” gag by Jennifer Lawrence escalated into a “she hates Jessica Chastain” campaign by the media. And in a bizarre twist, a stoic face amidst Golden Globes laughter has caused Tommy Lee Jones to be labeled as the guy who just doesn’t care enough.  And none of those match the outrage voiced by critics when Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow did not receive Best Director nominations. Movie Critics are not known for their math skills.  Nine Best Picture nominations and five Best Director nominations equates to four Directors who aren’t nominated despite their films being named. The “I guess the movie directed itself” argument is lame and misplaced. Still, there is a good chance that Argo wins Best Picture in a year when its director was not nominated.  That’s only happened 3 previous times.

oscars2 This year’s Oscar event is being hosted by the very talented and somewhat strange Seth MacFarlane.  If you don’t know the name, he is the creative genius behind such money-makers as “Family Guy” and Ted.  He has voiced an incredible number of characters including Peter, Brian and Stewie from “Family Guy” and Ted from Ted, and is even nominated for an Oscar for co-writing a song from Ted. MacFarlane’s humor can run to the crude and rude, but he is also a classically trained singer, so expect a song to go with his many voices. The program will also feature the first Academy Awards performance from Barbra Streisand in many years, but what’s much more exciting than all that is that the show will feature a 50th Anniversary James Bond tribute.  All of the actors who have portrayed 007 have been invited (expect some no-shows), and as a special bonus the great Shirley Bassey is set to perform.  She belted out my favorite all-time Bond theme with Goldfinger, as well as Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker.

As is my tradition, you will find both my PREDICTION and my PREFERENCE for each of the 24 categories.


argoPrediction: ARGO Ben Affleck’s true life drama has swept the Guild’s: Producer, Director, Writer, and Screen Actor.  Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook would be the only possible surprise winners, but anything other than Argo would actually be a shock!

Preference: Lincoln.  It leads all films with twelve nominations, but its best chances are in Best Actor and Best Supporting categories. On the bright side, the DVD is being shipped to every middle school and high school in the United States.


ang leePrediction: ANG LEE (Life of Pi).  With Argo a likely winner and its director (Ben Affleck) not nominated, this category is wide open.  Expect the beloved Ang Lee to edge out Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Preference: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)  While Lincoln was my favorite movie of the year, Ang Lee directed the one movie that was based on an “unfilmable” book … and did so with breath-taking flair.


DDLPrediction: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS. The one absolute this evening.  DDL will become the first ever three time Oscar winner for Best Actor.  Katherine Hepburn was a four time winner for Best Actress, but no man has won three times. His performance was transcendent.

Preference: Daniel Day-Lewis.  I will say that Joaquin Phoenix was terrific in The Master and it’s wonderful that Bradley Cooper became a “real” actor in Silver Linings Playbook.


jenniferPrediction: JENNIFER LAWRENCE. This is a three way race that includes Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). If the SNL gig didn’t cost Ms. Lawrence too many votes or Ms. Riva doesn’t capture too many “last chance” votes, the most exciting young actress working today will win her first Oscar.  If Ms. Riva wins, she will be the oldest ever Oscar winner, and if Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) wins, she will be the youngest ever Oscar winner … though she would never win if Oscar voters had to correctly spell her first name without looking.

Preference: Jennifer Lawrence.  I thoroughly enjoyed all five performances in this category, and in many other years, Naomi Watts (The Impossible) would have been the frontrunner.


deniroPrediction: ROBERT DENIRO.  The frontrunner since the nominations were announced has been Tommy Lee Jones, so this is a risky prediction.  All five nominees have previously won an Oscar, but incredibly, it’s been 32 years since DeNiro last won. What a talented group!

Preference: Robert DeNiro or Christoph Waltz. It was thrilling to see DeNiro engaged again, and those who claim Waltz simply reprised his Inglourious Basterds character really missed out, though the argument could be made that Samuel L Jackson was the key support role for Django Unchained.


anne hathawayPrediction: ANNE HATHAWAY. Aside from Best Actor, this is probably the next sure thing.  It’s remarkable to think she may win based on one scene and one song and one haircut. Some have Sally Field in an upset here (hope not!), and Amy Adams and Jacki Weaver are two of my favorite actresses.  Unfortunately, neither of their nominated roles really pushed them.

Preference: Anne Hathaway.  The song was outstanding, even though her couple of other scenes were very distracting for me. Still, her song is more impressive than Sally Field’s 25 pound weight gain.


bravePredictionBRAVE. It’s a two film race between Brave and Wreck-it Ralph, and the demographic breakdown of the Academy leads me to believe the “safe” pick will win over the more impressive one, but this could go either way.

Preference: Frankenweenie. While this has been Tim Burton’s pet project for two decades, I have an emotional attachment to it as well. It’s a shame more people didn’t give it a chance. It’s a beautiful film with terrific characters.


sugarmanPrediction: SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN. A wonderful feel-good story of re-discovery and second chances that did very well at the box office and with its soundtrack.  The movie has a surreal feel to it, and face it, we need upbeat stories coming out of Detroit these days.  The Gatekeepers or How to Survive a Plague could sneak in, but it’s doubtful.

Preference: Searching for Sugarman.


Prediction: Mychael Danna (Life of Pi).  Alexandre Desplat (Argo) and John Williams (Lincoln) could easily win, but much of Life of Pi depended on the score, while the others were more complimentary and traditional.

Preference: Mychael Danna (Life of Pi).  It was nice to see Thomas Newman nominated for Skyfall because the score was crucial for that film as well.


adelePrediction: SKYFALL by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth. One of the best ever Bond themes and probably becomes the first to win.  The original Les Miserables song was lame and I’d venture a guess that you don’t remember the other 3 nominations.

Preference: Skyfall by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth. Mostly I want this to win so that my son will have it stuck in his head for a few more days. Plus the first Bond song win as the Academy celebrates 50 years of Bond is just perfect.


life of piPrediction: Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi). Contrary to popular belief, this is not just a special effects movie. Mr. Miranda helped created a beautiful and visually seductive film.  His competition is probably the great Roger Deakins (Skyfall) who inexplicably is 0 for 9 in Oscar nominations. It’s doubtful that the Academy would vote two Oscars for a Bond movie, but Deakins deserves recognition.

Preference: Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi). Mr. Miranda earned it for the movie, but Deakins deserves it for his body of work.

PRODUCTION DESIGN (formerly Art Design)

Prediction: David Gropman and Anna Pinnock (Life of Pi).  This movie is a technical marvel, and Lincoln also had some fantastic attention to detail.

Preference: David Gropman and Anna Pinnock (Life of Pi).  They have earned it, but a Lincoln win would not be disappointing … which I can’t say about Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Prediction: Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina).  Costume dramas are historically Academy favorites in this category, though Lincoln and Les Miserables could both be factors.

Preference: anything but Mirror Mirror.  I have nightmares that Julia Roberts might make an appearance onstage if this one wins. (Yeah, I know … my dreams aren’t what they used to be)


argoPrediction: William Goldenberg (Argo) in a close one over Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg (yes, the same one) for Zero Dark Thirty. Mr. Goldenberg is a rock star editor.

Preference:  Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg (Zero Dark Thirty).  The bin Laden fortress sequence was one of the most compelling things I’ve ever seen on screen.


Prediction: Open Heart.  Only like 9 people vote in this category, so three votes wins.  Yes, I’m kidding, but predicting this category is a total guess.

Preference:  a quick acceptance speech


papermanPrediction: PAPERMAN by John Kahrs.  This one has a nice behind the scenes production story but will have to take down Pixar and Disney and Maggie Simpson to win.

Preference: Head Over Heels by Timothy Reckart and Fodhia Cronin O’Reilly. Evidently I’m the only one who appreciated this one.  Yep, I’m a rebel.


curfewPrediction: CURFEW by Shawn Christensen in a race against Buzkashi Boys.  Another tough category because so few voters watch them all.

Preference: Death of a Shadow by Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele.  This one is even darker than Curfew. There was a real shortage of upbeat live action shorts this year.


Les miserablesPrediction: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell (Les Miserables).  They deserve it for bravely working with Helena Bonham Carter’s hair and chopping off Anne Hathaway’s long locks.  Hitchcock and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey leaned heavily (that’s not a fat joke) on appliances and prosthetics, while Les Mis created a distinct feel through traditional hair and make-up.

Preference: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell (Les Miserables).


Prediction: Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton (Life of Pi) should eke out a win over five outstanding nominated films.

Preference: Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton (Life of Pi).


Prediction: Andy Nelson, Mark Peterson, Simon Hayes (Les Miserables).  How many other films featured live singing on set for the entire movie?  Half a movie?  A single scene?  That’s right … none.  Whether you enjoyed Russell Crowe’s singing or not, “live” singing for a quality movie is very impressive.

Preference: Andy Nelson, Mark Peterson, Simon Hayes (Les Miserables).


life of piPrediction: LIFE OF PI Should be a slam dunk.  This is the most visually impressive film in quite some time.  Plus, I don’t even like 3D and yet the 3D effects left me in awe.

Preference: Life of Pi.


zero dark thirtyPrediction: Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty).  This one qualified as original because of the independent research conducted by Mr. Boal. Much of the film has Jessica Chastain sitting at a desk and yet the tension is palpable.  That’s quality writing.  And the two key tension-filled action sequences will have you squirming in your seat.

Preference: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained). This is not my preference just because I love watching Tarantino speak in public, but this along with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom were the most unique fiction seen on the silver screen this year.


argoPrediction: Chris Terrio (Argo). If it wins this award, the Best Picture Oscar is in the bag.  If David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) pulls an upset, then Best Picture is up for grabs.

Preference: David Magee (Life of Pi).  This book was deemed unfilmable for years, yet Magee drafted a script that allowed Ang Lee to bring the story to life. That’s a monumental achievement.


amourPrediction: AMOUR (Austria) in a narrow win over Kon-Tiki (Norway). Amour is also nominated for Best Picture, which is an unusual occurrence for a foreign film.

Preference: Amour (Austria).  It’s a very tough movie to watch and even tougher to recommend, but director Michael Haneke delivers a stunning look at slow death.  Doesn’t that make you want to rush out to see it?

*NOTE: I certainly don’t expect Life of Pi to win as many Oscars as I have predicted; however, I have based my predictions on the individual categories and not the total number of wins.  In other words, I expect to be wrong, I’m just not sure in which categories.

If you would care to see my Best of 2012 list (yes, I realizeit’s hypocritical for me to use “Best”, but old habits are hard to break), here is the link:   best of 2012

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and predictions!

TED (2012)

July 1, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Upon watching the trailer, it would be easy and understandable to simply write off this movie as a ridiculous piece of junk produced merely to capitalize on the popularity of Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy” creator). That would be a mistake. While much of what Ted has to say will burn your ears, the insight that goes into his lines is often unmistakeably brilliant.

The movie opens with terrific narration from Patrick Stewart. It’s done in A Christmas Story style, only with a caustic and deadpan irreverence that will jolt you before the opening credits have even rolled. We learn the story of 9 year old John Bennett, a social outcast who receives a teddy bear for Christmas. First, what parent buys their 9 year old a teddy bear??? Anyway, that night, under the covers, young John wishes that he and Ted could be lifelong friends. In the morning, he awakes to find a sweet, lively teddy who startles everyone.

 The talking bear becomes an instant celebrity and is even booked on the Johnny Carson show … the first of many 1980’s pop culture references. As in the case of Corey Feldman (pointed out by the narrator), celebrity often fades. Flash forward 25 years and John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are living together with John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis). The boys spend most of their time smoking pot and watching TV re-runs and worshiping the 1980 Flash Gordon cult movie. It’s a typical man-child existence except that one of them is a vile, 4 letter-word spewing teddy bear, and there is no logical reason that the beautiful Kunis hasn’t walked away from the four year relationship with the hapless floater John.

 Mr. MacFarlane’s true talent lies in laughing at our societal norms and encouraging us to laugh at ourselves. He does this through Brian, the pet dog on “Family Guy“, and now here with a talking teddy bear. He holds little back in ripping our obsession with celebrity, our near-clinical anxiety towards all things Politically Correct, and the villainous ways of entitled corporate types (played here by Joel McHale). Luckily the same rules don’t apply for talking teddies, so we hear things that we aren’t even allowed to think. Because he can, MacFarlane mixes in his love of the 80’s with numerous references and we even get odd cameos from Tom Skerritt, Nora Jones and Ryan Reynolds. The most bizarre reference takes up a substantial part of the movie … Sam Jones, the star of Flash Gordon, appears as an aged party animal, teaching the boys some new tricks. Most of this will be dead time to those unfamiliar with the 1980 movie … and evidently few of us have been impacted by it like MacFarlane.

 Ted is a mash-up of John Waters, Bad Santa, Jackass and just about every stereotypical slacker-buddy movie from the past 25 years. It’s all of that and none of that at the same time. Depending on your viewpoint, Ted is either a crass, irreverent, totally inappropriate waste of movie time, or it’s a comical, insightful observation on where we are as a society right now. Only you can decide … just please don’t take your kids.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you always wished your teddy bear would come alive OR you have a freakish attraction to Flash Gordon

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your preference in comedy leans towards the sweet and innocent (two words that have no place near this movie)

watch the trailer: