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The 81st Academy Award Nominations: The Big Show Goes Small

Posted by goldwriting on January 22, 2009

oscarDo you know how long I have been waiting to duel with someone. Seriously! I have the sword and everything.

For movie fanatics all over the world, this is the morning we wipe our crusted eyelids, roll clumsily out of bed and collapse on the couch to see the live announcement of the Academy Award nominations. It is more than a testament to the passion we have for cinema, it is a statement of how much we want to quickly and violently debate the fairness of the Academy’s choices. So, let the debate begin…

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

What can anyone do to stop the steamrolling power of the Slumdog? Pretty much nothing. Sweeping every category it was nominated in at the Golden Globes, Slumdog has all the momentum and all the passion of an Oscar winner. It’s uplifting, full of hope and adversity, and overall everything the Academy voters love to rally around. When it wins for Best Picture it will also help paint the picture of the Academy as a more international accepting body of voters. I give great credit to Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon for both being incredible films, but I don’t see them climbing over Slumdog for a win. Milk to me is over-nominated and I would have gladly let this one go in favor of The Dark Knight or Revolutionary Road. My disappointment over the snubbing of The Dark Knight isn’t truly due to thinking it would win the category, but because it would have given some validation to the comic book genre and really helped to boost the idea that these are not just costumed vigilantes on a violence bender, they are incredibly complex and moving stories available to be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. As for The Reader, Ricky Gervais must have been right when he told Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes, “See, just do the Holocaust movie and awards just come rolling in.”

Best Achievement in Directing

David Fincher: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard: Frost/Nixon

Gus Van Sant: Milk

Stephen Daldry: The Reader

Danny Boyle: Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

This is the first time since 1944 where there is an exact match between the Best Picture category and the Best Director. Commonly the two awards go hand-in-hand, but there is usually one oddball or mismatch between them. Not this year and my feelings remain pretty much the same from the previous category. Danny Boyle will walk away the winner.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Richard Jenkins: The Visitor (deserves to win)

Frank Langella: Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn: Milk

Brad Pitt: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke: The Wrestler (most likely winner)

Now here is some excitement and tension for the night. The inclusion of dark horse Richard Jenkins throws a distinct wrench in the celebratory plans of Mickey Rourke, who took the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama. Jenkins hands down deserves the nomination and I am pulling for him to win. All these performances were incredibly strong, which could split the voting and leave Jenkins available for the sneak attack. The big money is on Rourke because of his Cinderella-esque return to the limelight, but I’m personally hedging my bets and putting some small change on Jenkins. Sean Penn can proudly stand here as the one thing I agree with in terms of nominations for Milk. He was the lightning rod for this film and it all hinged on his stellar performance. Langella and Pitt both were terrific, but the momentum and buzz are not behind them this year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Josh Brolin: Milk

Robert Downey Jr.: Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt

Heath Ledger: The Dark Knight (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road

I was thinking about just leaving this area with one word, “Duh”, but that would steal my opportunity to praise and shout for the nomination of Michael Shannon. He was the most outstanding and powerful part of Revolutionary Road and I am thrilled he got the nod here. Yet, with that said, let me now return to my previous thought…

“Duh.”

Ledger takes this.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married (deserves to win)

Angelina Jolie: Changeling

Melissa Leo: Frozen River

Meryl Streep: Doubt

Kate Winslet: The Reader (most likely winner)

Who is Melissa Leo and what is this film, Frozen River? Pulling a repectful Jenkins-like move, Leo throws this semi-strong category into a whirl. Hathaway and Winslet are the two obvious front runners, with Hathaway almost sure to take the Independent Spirit Award the night before the Oscars and Winslet still fanning herself off after the double grab at the Golden Globes for both her roles this year. Holocaust subject matter aside, I think Hathaway was stronger in her role as an ex-junkie struggling with reintegrating herself into her own family, where as if Winslet had been nominated for Revolutionary Road instead of The Reader I would be more inclined to begrudgingly hand it to her. Streep can’t be totally counted out, especially since all four of the main actors from Doubt got nominations, but I think she will fall by the wayside here. Maybe when she lands there, she can bring Jolie a drink, she’s been down there all year.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams: Doubt

Penelope Cruz: Vicky Christina Barcelona

Viola Davis: Doubt

Taraji P. Henson: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Marisa Tomei: The Wrestler (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Even though Vicky Christina Barcelona took home the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, I think Penelope is the only one is this category you can count out of the running. The two Doubt women, Davis and Adams, were both sensational, but they might end up splitting that audience in half. This leaves Henson and Tomei to battle it out, with Tomei a touch ahead since I think she only lost out on the Globe because she was battling Winslet on her night-of-all-nights. If Henson pulls it out here, she will most likely be one of very few of the thirteen nominations for Button that will result in a win.

Best Animated Film of the Year

Bolt

Kung Fu Panda

Wall-E (deserves to win, most likely winner)

I’m still baffled by all the acclaim for Bolt, but it really doesn’t matter this year. Wall-E lost out on a Best Picture nod most likely because everyone just wanted to give it this award and be done with it. Plan on Pixar walking away once again, proud of its tiny trashman.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Roth: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

John Patrick Shanley: Doubt

Peter Morgan: Frost/Nixon

David Hare: The Reader

Simon Beaufoy: Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

There’s a good chance Slumdog will continue its reign here, but it’s a strong category so anything could really happen. The Reader has pulled in lots of support and you can count on a huge studio push for the win, but the rest of the pack are no slouches either. Shanley wrote the play for Doubt as well as the screenplay and he was already heaped with acclaim for the stage version (surprisingly, the same holds true for Morgan with Frost/Nixon). Hare succeeded greatly with taking an incredibly minute starting point, a much loved, but much thinner short story, so his skill and credit comes from the expansion and illumination of tale we are lucky to not have missed. Anyone’s game, but I’ll lean towards the Bollywood train based on sheer momentum.

Best Original Screenplay

Courtney Hunt: Frozen River

Mike Leigh: Happy-Go-Lucky

Martin McDonagh: In Bruges

Dustin Lance Black: Milk

Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon: Wall-E (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Again, this is a category where Milk really doesn’t fit. I don’t see it as an original story since it was a biopic and mostly a dramatization of the documentary, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. It’s a good film, but not what I consider an original story. Then there’s that mystery movie, Frozen River, once again. I really need to see this. Wall-E deserves writing acclaim without a doubt since the first twenty minutes were done beautifully with virtually no dialogue at all. That’s talent, people. Happy-Go-Lucky and In Bruges are getting more acclaim since both movies had their main actors recognized with Golden Globes this year, but I think this one will still end in the incredibly cute storage bin of our friend, Wall-E.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (deserves to win, most likely winner)

The Dark Knight

The Duchess

Revolutionary Road

The Duchess is a period drama and those tend to do well in this category. As for the rest, they are all incredibly picturesque and beautifully designed films, ranging from the aging, earthy tones of Button to the stark and stunning colors of Road, any of these films deserves the accolade on this night. Just for the sake of picking a winner, I’ll toss my tiny iota of support behind Button. (Sorry, Dark Knight, I still love you.)

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish the difference between Best Art Direction, which is how the film and its universe looks, and Best Cinematography, which is how the film is shot, which in turn show you how the universe looks. It’s a fine line, but this year I think the inventiveness of movement and pacing coupled with the saturated colors of India are going to bring Slumdog yet one more statue for the night.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Australia

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (deserves to win, most likely to win)

The Duchess

Milk

Revolutionary Road

Except for The Duchess, these are all dramas set in fairly contemporary time periods, so the costume design was more about complementing the world and environment, whereas in Duchess gets to really show off the fashions of its 18th century era; big hair pieces, huge dresses and rib-crushing corsets. I’ll lean towards Button due it sheer volume of nominations and its clarity of vision inside the entire project, but this is truly a toss-up.

Best Documentary Feature

The Betrayal

Encounters at the End of the World

The Garden

Man on Wire (most likely to win)

Trouble the Water

I can’t put “deserves to win” here since I have seen absolutely none of these. I love documentaries, but I happen to miss this grouping completely. I’ve heard amazing things about Man on Wire from both friends and industry readings, so I’ll go with that one.

Best Documentary Short Subject

The Conscience of Nhem En

The Final Inch

Smile Pinki

– The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306

Umm…[tries to read tea leaves]…uh…The Witness? Yeah, that’ll win.

Best Achievement in Film Editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Frost/Nixon (deserves to win)

Milk

Slumdog Millionaire (most likely winner)

Although the editing in Slumdog was sensational, I am happy to announce I think there is actually a better choice in this category. Frost/Nixon tackled a nearly yawn-inducing subject, one last interview with an old and broken man, and turned into a harrowing, sweat-filled ride towed along by brilliant pacing. Do I think it will actually win, nope, but it most certainly gets my vote for most deserving.

Best Foreign Language Film

The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Class

Departures

Revanche

Waltz with Bashir (most likely winner)

Bashir took home the Globe and you can expect it will do the same here. Nothing but praise has been heaped on this oddly animated drama and I am itching for my chance to witness it myself.

Best Achievement in Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (most likely to win)

The Dark Knight

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (deserves to win)

The real choice here is what you find more impressive, making something look incredibly realistic with a mixture of CGI and practical makeup or making something fantastical come to life with prosthetics and makeup? The former would give you Button as the winner and the latter would give you Hellboy II, while the only makeup worth celebrating in Dark Knight is the insanely creepy and dripping face of the Joker. I would like to see Hellboy win here for the amazing work not only on the main character, but also the underworld villain Prince Nuada and his sister, Princess Nuala.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)

Alexander Desplat: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

James Newton Howard: Defiance

Danny Elfman: Milk

A.H. Rahman: Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Thomas Newman: Wall-E

While this might be the happiest group of characters Danny Elfman ever scored for, I think he will lose and quickly return to his gothic roots. Slumdog has a good chance due to its unique international flavor and the Golden Globe A.H. Rahman is already carrying, but the other three are very much in the running.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

Peter Gabriel: “Down to Earth” from Wall-E (most likely winner)

Gulzar: “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire (deserves to win)

– A.R. Rahman, Maya Arulpragasam: “O Saya” from Slumdog Millionaire

There is a distinct lack of the man commonly referred to as “The Boss”! Why Bruce Springsteen didn’t get a nomination for the Golden Globe winning song he wrote and performed for The Wrestler is beyond me. Also surprising is the exclusion of Academy golden oldie, Clint Eastwood, and his warbling diddy for Gran Torino. With those two oddly out of the limelight, Gabriel could indeed walk away with it for his heartwarming tune, but Gulzar’s tune is the ending credits number and backs up a huge Bollywood dance number, which helps lift the audience to their feet after all the yearning and struggling they just witnessed. I’m going to put my mark there, while internally wishing I could actually dance like that.

Best Animated Short Film

La Maison en Petits Cubes

Lavatory – Lovestory

Oktapodi

Presto (most likely winner)

This Way Up

Presto is the only one I have seen since it was shown before Wall-E in the theater, but the whole thing is done with no dialogue and is gut-wrenchingly funny. Plus, it’s a Pixar joint, so just give it the gold and be happy they want to make more.

Best Live Action Short Film

Auf der Strecke (On the Line)

Mannon on the Asphalt (most likely winner)

New Boy

The Pig

Spielzeugland (Toyland)

I’ll go with Mannon on the Asphalt because it makes me think of a montage of skateboarders faceplanting.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

The Dark Knight (deserves to win, most likely winner)

Iron Man

Slumdog Millionaire

Wall-E

Wanted

The fact Wanted can now call itself an Academy Award nominated film just tickles me. There was some great sound work by all the nominees in this category, but here I will lovingly and joyously put my ballot into the box of Dark Knight. From the sounds of the jet engine of the Batmobile to the bone-crushing thud of Ledger’s head hitting the interrogation room table, this was a symphony of audio accomplishment.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight (deserves to win)

Slumdog Millionaire (most likely winner)

Wall-E

Wanted

Evidently Iron Man didn’t mix as well as they edited. Odd. Anyway, I’d still like to see Dark Knight get this, but I think the voting block might split this one up. There might still be enough uber-love for Slumdog to pull this one through for them as well.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (deserves to win, most likely winner)

The Dark Knight

Iron Man

This is the one category where Button truly deserves to win, hands down. The character of Benjamin was so incredible and adorable, I couldn’t felt any more sympathy and yearning for him if he were sitting right in front of me. The only reason it worked was the sheer realism of this aged and decrepit child, so without any reservations, this one goes to them.

If you made it all the way down here, thanks once again for reading and I would love to hear your thoughts. Tell me I’m right, tell me I’m wrong, make me believe I missed out on something truly great or just let me know what you thought of that box of Raisinets you got at the movies (Were yours stale? Mine were last time, but I can’t stop getting them).
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Frost/Nixon: Bringing the Fight to the People

Posted by goldwriting on December 7, 2008

frostnixonmovie Did I have your phone tapped? Your voice sounds so familiar…

Rating: 9 out of 10

There are few things in life as exciting or exhilarating as watching a good fight. Maybe it’s the primate in us, a deep evolutionary need to see two people beat the piss out of each other in order to prove dominance. Maybe it’s the need to see a champion, someone we can look up to and model our own lives after. Or, on a slight chance, it’s the glimmer of hope we huddle around to keep us warm and keep our dreams from fading away, the dream that one day someone will topple the champ and change the world forever. Now you might think those emotions only get woken up during a purely physical battle, but if so, you are truly missing out on some of the best battles in human history. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in 1858 for control of the Illinois legislature and those verbal fencing matches were a preview of the power and eloquence with which Lincoln would bring to bear in his time as President. Almost exactly one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon took to the airwaves for the first ever televised debate between Presidential candidates. Those four on-air matches drew numerous comparisons to their predecessors of nearly a century before. Even in our latest election a highlight truly arrived during our one and only debate between Vice-Presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. While it might not have been the intelligence and skill in the fight we were all watching for, it still made for captivating television.

Yet one thing all those previous moments lacked was the dark cloud of obvious guilt and shame hanging over the head of Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. A man who achieved amazing and brilliant things during his time in office was forced to step down and hang his head for something he was arguably not the first to do, just the first to get caught red-handed. I’m not defending Nixon, but in the context of political history, including any number of the documented and undocumented crimes committed by our still reigning President, Nixon was a lightweight. But for the American people of the 1960’s, his betrayal of the public office was the lowest they had seen a President stoop to and they demanded action. After newly sworn-in President Ford issued a complete and unequivocal pardon of Nixon, it seemed as though the American people were going to have to drink and eat whatever they could get their hands on to cover up the bad taste. But then one man stepped up to the plate, determined to give the people exactly what they wanted.

This is not just a history lesson; this is the premise and plot of Ron Howard‘s new film, Frost/Nixon. David Frost was a British talk show host who came up with the idea of interviewing Nixon after his resignation, but his original motives were not entirely altruistic. Mainly, he was a master of television audiences and he could feel the ratings he would get for such an interview would be outrageous. Once he locked the interview in place however, it became a monster he almost couldn’t control. The film is incredibly small in scale, beginning the year where Frost came up with the idea and ending within days after the interview was concluded. We get to see the build up to the big interview, but the actual recorded and tastefully lit chat between the two characters is really the lynch-pin on which the whole film rests. Thinking about the premise beforehand, it’s hard to imagine there being an incredible amount of tension in the movie-going audience, especially since we know what happens, but quality filmmaking and intelligent storytelling can make any old story seem new once again. By the time Frost and Nixon sit across from each other, microphones pinned to their lapels, handkerchiefs folded and makeup invisibly applied, the intensity is palpable. It was akin to watching a heavyweight boxing match, except one contender had never really felt the blow of a well-landed punch before. Once he does, the fear in his eyes truly brings the audience into his mindset. Luckily for us, both in the theater and in history, fear that might make some men run will make others fight all that much harder.

Ron Howard has been making movies for a number of years now and won a number of accolades and critical acclaim, but Frost/Nixon might end up topping them all. With a very simple story he found a way to display two very non-simple people. There is tension, anticipation and weight all brought to bear on a simple interview which ended up changing the lives of not only the people in the chairs, but the worldwide audience as well. Howard also got his two lead actors gift-wrapped, Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. Both actors originally played their roles on stage to massive acclaim, so heading into the movie, they had these characters down cold. There is definitely a difference between playing a role on stage and playing it on film, but the internal work and preparation by these actors is a virtual treasure chest in comparison to what you get on most film sets. The moment they appear on screen, you can feel the depth and skill both actors gained from all their time put in. Frank Langella disappears into Nixon, truly embodying Nixon’s confident walk and sweeping movements of his arms, his imposing intrusion into people’s personal space, and finally the stoop — which on anyone else would have made them look old, but with Nixon is just made him look dangerous and determined. On the other side of the ring, we have Michael Sheen, who shined as David Frost, the plucky and charming television talk show host. There are some moments where Sheen is just listening to Langella rant on and on and Sheen displays an amazing level of intensity, fear and nearly overwhelming nervousness just by using his eyes. He doesn’t even have to move to show the wave after wave of emotional turmoil this man goes through while trying to go toe-to-toe with “Tricky Dick”. Both actors are strong contenders for nominations in the award season.

Beyond the powerhouse duo in front, there is a wealth of strong supporting cast. Sam Rockwell, one of Hollywood’s best go-to character actors, delivers an impassioned performance as James Reston Jr., one of the researchers on Frost’s team. He is the emotional anchor for the team, representing the anger, fury and bitter disappointment of the American people, and if there is one thing Rockwell does better than anything else, it’s playing disappointment and disdain (try poking your head into almost any scene in Choke). Right alongside Rockwell is another amazing talent, Oliver Platt, who plays Bob Zelnick, the more political structure based portion of Frost’s team. Platt continues to do his thing with great talent and shine without ever stealing scenes or trying to make the moment about him. He can be the star of the show if cast that way, but his true talent is blending into an ensemble and making everyone around him better for it. If you’ve never really experienced Platt, I would happily and heartily suggest Casanova and The Three Musketeers, both brilliant comedic performances. A little on the lesser-known side is Matthew Macfadyen, who plays John Birt, Frost’s manager, who continually rallies the troops and sticks by his side even when things are at their most bleak. Macfadyen brought a great sense of strength and loyalty that kept the audience in check and never giving up on Frost and his ultimate goal. As if we needed another name to add to the list, this will benefit all those addicts of the “Six Degrees” game, Kevin Bacon plays Jack Brennan, Nixon’s Chief of Staff and most devoted servant. Bacon lays it on thick, the dogged determination and defense of Nixon, even in the final moments when it all is slipping away. A solid job from an incredibly consistent actor.

Recommendation: If you like movies about important moments in American History, you should like this. If you like Ron Howard films, you should like this. If you like purely character pieces, you should like this. If you are looking for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, you might wanna move on by. Lastly, if you are like me and try to watch everything on the Oscar nominated list, I’m putting good money this film will end up on there somewhere, whether for acting, directing or writing. Save yourself the rush of trying to track it down during awards season and catch it now.
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Bolt: Some Sizzle, Yet No Spark

Posted by goldwriting on December 1, 2008

bolt Do you know how close that place is to the ocean? Do you realize how much water that is?!

Rating: 6 out of 10

We sometimes cast a wistful gaze back into history and remember all the purely magical moments of our childhoods: learning to ride a bike, dumping out the first bag of Halloween candy after a monster haul, or playing with the first new family pet. All of these things hold a special place in our hearts and right alongside those for most of us is the memory of watching our first Disney film. Whether it was Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Steamboat Wille or Aladdin (had to mention it since it is still my reigning favorite from ‘The House of Mouse’), those magical cartoons had a profound effect on several generations and for that, Disney deserves a certain amount of credit. Yet, today things are slightly different. In the world of animated cinema Disney is scratching for third place on the totem pole, underneath the powerhouse studios of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation. It’s true, it can be argued Disney is on top of the pole since they own Pixar, but Pixar operates very much as a separate company and they gained their early success and prestige before Disney made the purchase. Disney is merely the distribution chain for the wonderment emanating from the minds and dreams of the Pixar creative staff. So the question becomes, does Disney still have the chops to compete in the animation circuit?

Yes, they do, as long as they are satisfied with coming in third.

Disney’s latest contribution is Bolt, the story of a dog who doesn’t know he’s an actor on a television show and ends up lost in the real world trying to find his owner, who was fake-kidnapped on the show. Along the way Bolt captures an alley cat in an effort to force her to lead him to the Green-eyed Man (his TV arch-nemesis) and also picks up a hamster that happens to be a fanatical fan named Rhino. Their cross country journey is full of adventures and mishaps, all in an effort to lead Bolt home and back to his owner. The journey is also an internal one for Bolt as he struggles with the realization that he is a normal, non-superhero type dog.

Bolt is a charming movie and should be enjoyable to most young kids out there, but the modern day marker for true success in this genre is how many adults can you attract without their children in tow? For that crowd, Bolt doesn’t offer a whole lot. The trailer was incredibly well-designed and caught a good deal of the highlights in the film, mainly showcasing the role of Rhino the hamster, who stole most of his scenes and felt light in the overall scope of the film. Boosting up his role might not have fit in the structure of the story, but it certainly would have brought up the laughs. Another point in which I think the movie fared really well was the depiction of the pigeons, both in New York and in Los Angeles. The movements and seemingly spastic thought processes in those birds were amusing no matter what they were talking about. Those animators really captured a brilliant idea of what it could be like to listen to their thoughts. The Los Angeles based pigeons…well, those were hilarious for a whole different reason, which I won’t go into for the sake of not ruining the scene. (The only pitfall here is it might only be funny to people who live out here and work in the entertainment industry. Even so, I’m lucky because I do live here and I did think they were the high point of the flick.) As for the main characters, Bolt made sense throughout the film and always stayed on a strong motivated course, but I just wasn’t endeared to him. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but something lacked in making Bolt stand out amongst the cadre of side characters and he ended up being only a lynch pin instead of driving force for the story. The alley cat, Mittens, played well off Bolt and acted more like the Chorus in Greek and Roman theatre, providing the reactions of the common audience member, since Bolt’s own worldview was so skewed. Mittens continually reminded us that what was happening was more-or-less insane, but in the end also showed us what was most important. Surprising to me, Mittens felt more like the heart or emotional center of the film over Bolt.

With animated features another big hurdle is to find a cast of voices that not only fits the characters, but also doesn’t overshadow the movie itself. John Travolta provided the voice of Bolt and admittedly when the movie began I felt his voice was too old for the character and too aware of himself, but as it went on I felt Travolta settled into it more and became more attuned with the character. On the other hand, Miley Cyrus was not a terribly good choice as the voice of Penny, Bolt’s real life and on-screen owner. She was certainly picked for star power and to further connect the movie to the teen-and-under audience, but Miley’s voice is raspy, bordering on smoky at times and while that might work for her pop star image, it didn’t play coming from the mouth of a young, innocent looking girl.

One last interesting tidbit is Bolt was actually executive produced by John Lasseter, one of Pixar’s creators who now works for both companies. He was brought onto Disney Animation to help bring them back into the forefront of the animation world, but I can’t say I really felt that Pixar spark inside this movie. I have no doubt Disney will continue to move forward and fight their way onwards and upwards, but so far it has been a slow crawl for them.

Recommendation: If you have young children, jump on in, but if you’re heading out on your own, you better be a die-hard fan of children’s movies. Also, this is being offered in 3-D at some theaters, but feel free to skip that option. I saw the 3-D version and there wasn’t anything really worth the hassle of wearing those glasses and possibly fighting off the resulting headache.
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Changeling: Truth and Passion without Power.

Posted by goldwriting on October 26, 2008

“Oh my, ummm…this is awkward. Can I return this one for something a little more, i don’t know, related to me?”

Ranking: 7.5/10

Some people refer to it as the “Oscar curse”, others mention it as “setting the bar too high”, but they all refer to the same phenomenon, once great success is achieved everything from that point forward is compared against it. Few directors still working today know this as well as Clint Eastwood. After winning a number of awards previously, he finally snagged the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture for his 1992 return to the Western, Unforgiven. Twelve years later he reached that height once more in both categories for Million Dollar Baby. With that amount of popularity and acclaim in your wake, critics and audiences begin to develop a particular impression of where your movies will take them. Each time Clint returns to the screen, it is another contest against himself to try and outdo his previous visions. Did it happen this time? Were new peaks reached in power and passion? Let’s find out.

Changeling is based on a true story about a young woman named Christine Collins whose young son was kidnapped in late 1920’s Los Angeles. This took place during a time of great scrutiny and negative press for the police department in LA, so her tragic situation was given an overwhelming amount of news coverage and spotlight. Desperate to garner anything in the form of positive press, the LAPD snatched up any attempt to find her boy, but in that desperate vein they returned to her a young boy who was not her son. Whether it was an honest mistake or collusion on the part of the police force, it didn’t matter, there was no way for them to back out. What followed was a closely guarded cabal of high ranking officers and elected officials who did everything in their power to silence the willful and impassioned young mother still crying for her real son to be brought home.

The story is a powerful one and at times you have remind yourself that it actually took place. The sheer audacity and corruption depicted nearly ruins any suspension of disbelief, but it’s because we live in a different time, a different society. Back then, women still had very few rights and a great deal could still be swept away with a back handed comment about them being “too emotional”. In the past we were still bearing witness to the classic adage of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, which we can still see today if we look closely enough. Clint did a fantastic job translating this desperate tale to the screen, bringing every minuscule detail of the 1920’s – 1930’s Los Angeles back to life. He also continues to handle brutal levels of violence in a sensitive and classic manner, moving the camera away or playing with shadows just enough to let the audience fill in the darkness.

Yet, what a director is truly there for is to direct the actors and bring forth the most honest and pure performances possible. This is where Clint Eastwood is a living, breathing masterpiece. Angelina Jolie brings forth the tremors and troubles of the young mother, Christine Collins. There is no doubt playing this role was incredibly intense for her since she most likely drew from her own much publicized experiences as a mother. She once again glides from reserved, to frantic, to forlorn and lastly to resolute with the grace of an actress much older than her years. The only problem for her was she spent a good deal of the movie emotionally troubled, so there wasn’t very far she could still go by the time of the third act climax. In the end there was a sense of caring for her, but I felt the lack of a distinct moment of undenied connection from the audience. John Malkovich lays the heavy hand of responsibility on the LAPD in his performance as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, a local pastor who made it his main goal in life to bring to light all the criminal and despicable acts the police had committed under the guise of justice. John achieves the powerful and sometimes frightening level of surety and devout belief in his own actions, which is usually the signature of highly influential religious officials. Jeffery Donovan gets the part people either love or hate to play, the character left holding all the blame. As Capt. J.J. Jones, Jeffery scrambles erratically to cover up Christine Collins in any way possible, including having her committed to an insane asylum until she agrees to sign a document absolving the LAPD of any wrongdoing in her case. He definitely reaches deep into this character to bring out the desperation which accompanies his actions, but the one failure here is we can never tell how much he knew from the beginning, exactly how complicit was he, which affects how much the audience can blame him. Yet, with all these big names and accomplished actors in the film, scene after scene is stolen by Jason Butler Harner in the role of Gordon Northcott, a frighteningly imbalanced monster with a penchant for young boys. No matter who he was on screen with, Jason drew all eyes to him and punched his way off the screen into the guts and underbelly of the audience. When nominations are announced next year, I’m not going to be surprised to see some of these names in lights, but Jason is certainly one of the most deserving.

While there are times we complain something on screen is unbelievable or that it could never happen in real life, this film suffers slightly from the opposite effect, what we witness is based on real life, during a particular moment in time. The level of mental, physical and emotional abuse laid upon this woman is not only baffling, but shocking to the idea that it ever took place. The film follows a common structure of your underdog story, one against the many, but in the end I’m not sure whether there was enough retribution to balance out the agony she had been put through. Without that equality between protagonist and antagonist, the film can sometimes feel unfulfilled.

Bottom Line: Fans of Clint Eastwood will like the film, but possibly not love it. It still fails to reach the level of his previous works, but certain performances, specifically from Jason Butler Harner, are truly worth experiencing.

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Body of Lies: Political Punch Without a Point

Posted by goldwriting on October 12, 2008

You mean to tell me the hidden Harry Potter novel is NOT in this folder?

There are certain things a country does when it goes to war, the economy usually booms into action, the populace rally behind the sitting President and Hollywood starts production on films portraying America as the patriotic force of good against whatever evil it is we are currently fighting with. And so it went during the early years of the Iraq War, but as time dragged on everything started to slip away. The economy slid into one of the worst depressions on record, the general populace turned on the sitting President with such vitriol and distaste it is a wonder he’s still in office, and lastly Hollywood began to show another side of the conflict, one where we were not cast in the best of lights. The movie going public usually eats this all up with a popcorn flavored spoon, but eventually there is a line crossed where the audience just doesn’t care anymore. We’ve moved on, the war has become old news and we don’t want to be reminded anymore about how badly we screwed the pooch. But films take a long time to go from start to finish, so this weekend we were graced with one more wartime vision, Body of Lies, this one from greatly acclaimed director Ridley Scott and powerhouse actors Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Russell plays Ed Hoffman, an arrogant, egotistical CIA operative constantly wired to the cell phone in his pocket and somehow managing to pillage information from halfway around the world while still attending his daughter’s soccer game. Leo takes the role of Roger Ferris, the rough edged man on the ground who provides Ed with his intel and carries out whatever orders flow through those encrypted phone lines. As with anyone who stays in those situations for too long, Roger is getting strung out and he starts to wonder if these secret missions and assassinations are really the correct course of action. Ed does what he can to talk sense into him, make him see the bigger picture, but Roger begins to think the two of them are picturing different things. Old loyalties are tested and broken, while new ones are forged in the heat of a silent war. Once again, it’s shown that every man must choose his own destiny and find out what he truly believes.

The main thing getting in the way of this film’s success is the timing. No matter how much action you put in, no matter how much drama you layer over it, the fact remains this is yet another Iraq War movie and the audience just isn’t there anymore. We have grown weary of seeing our enemies, the ones fighting against us and the ones claiming to be fighting for us. There will always be a place for war movies in the annals of cinema, but the market right now has become glutted with them, especially with the extra helping on documentaries on the subject. Deep down we all go to the movie theater to be momentarily distracted from what we see on the news every night and right now the voice of the people is speaking loud and clear on that point.

Yet, even if this movie had been released earlier by three or four years, I’m not sure it would have done much better. Ridley does his best here to set up tension and a good sense of paced action, but with only an hour gone from the opening shot I was already beginning to wonder how long we had left. The film seems to drag itself towards an end, which when it finally arrives has little to no impact. The story lacks a sense of closure, which possible stems from the reality of the situation in Iraq. There is certainly a ride to be had by watching this, but I’m not sure you finish the ride feeling any different than when you got on.

The excitement surrounding Russell and Leo getting to work together was palpable when the casting was first announced, but they both deliver only during certain scenes. Russell relaxes into the skin of Ed Hoffman, a man who can’t be bothered to think about the humanity of his actions because he has the safety of the world on his mind. Yet barely underneath that is his own desire to be recognized as the one who saved it. In particular moments of the film, Russell really flowed with the brimming confidence of Ed, but in other scenes he came off rather uncaring and unmotivated. Leo got a touch luckier in his role because all the drama and conflict really resides in him. He showed some good chops while playing the political game between Ed and the local contacts, but it never came up to the power of Leo’s earlier stuff, like The Basketball Diaries, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or most recently The Departed, which he will forever be measured against. The one person who actually stepped out of the film and truly gave a measure of weight when on screen was Mark Strong, who played Hani the head of the Jordanian Secret Service. His cool demeanor was a translucent mask over an intimidating and unremorseful nature. Hani saw the world very plainly, those who were with him and those who were against him, and you knew which side you wanted to be on.

Recommendation: I can’t honestly say there is much here we haven’t already seen in the last couple of years with films like The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs. If you really want power and performance inside a war story, Ridley is still your man, just go rent Black Hawk Down instead.

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Here are links for two of the posters for the movies I mentioned in this review:

Buy at Art.com
Buy at Art.com

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Eagle Eye: I Think I’ve Gone Blind (SPOLIERS)

Posted by goldwriting on September 28, 2008

What do you mean those Indy fans are still pissed off? Man, they are persistent.

Shia LeBeouf is the boy with the golden ticket. We’ve watched him rise from talent on the TV screen in Even Stevens, make a breakthrough performance in The Battle of Shaker Heights (one of the winning films from the ambitious Project Greenlight) and land squarely in the middle of some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and Transformers. His star is shining bright in the Hollywood skyline and nothing seems to be slowing him down…

except for the fact his acting skills are getting completely lost in terrible, and I mean truly terrible, scripts. Let’s give his newest visual extravaganza a look see.

Eagle Eye is the story of Jerry Shaw (LeBeouf), a young, brilliant son who never applied himself to anything and is scraping by in a droll existence dodging his landlady and bluffing money in poker games in the back room of his copy store job. This is also the story of Rachel Holloman (played by Michelle Monaghan), a pretty, young and bitterly divorced woman who’s trying to vicariously live out her wild youth through her friends, while dedicating her only strength and passion to her young son. These two seemingly total opposites are “activated” and sent kicking and screaming through a dangerous series of hoops by an unknown voice on their phones, who can seemingly track them absolutely anywhere. Jerry is forced into it because he’s been framed as a terrorist, while Rachel runs the gambit to save the life of her son. Together they try to stay alive long enough to figure out what it is they are supposed to accomplish.

*There you have the basic set up. From this point on, there are spoilers because it is impossible to write about the issues with this film without giving away the plot twists. You’ve been warned.*

There is no person on the other end of the phone. It’s a computer called Aria who was designed and built by the Department of Defense and is now on the warpath to eradicate the chain of command, all the way up to the President, because they disobeyed a tactical recommendation she gave them. So after all the hype and excitement around the movie, it turns out to be nothing more than a poor remake of WarGames. This is only made more offensive by the fact that I loved WarGames as a kid and amazingly enough the film still holds up today, which many from that time period don’t, especially when they have to do with computer technology.

The film pretty much unravels from the moment you are told everything is being run and designed by a rogue artificial intelligence. The trailers were specifically designed to hide this fact, giving off more of a “big brother” fright tactic, and I applaud that marketing plan, except the only time that works is when the true plot twist in the theater is more interesting than the one we already imagined. This is not the case with Eagle Eye. No computer system would ever create such a convoluted and hole-ridden assassination plot. Computer systems are based on logic, even the ones we give personalities to, but Aria decides to make Shia and Michelle run rampant through downtown streets in numerous cities, dodging death and destruction at every turn, only so they can get into Aria’s control panel and undo a biometric lock put in place by…wait for it…wait for it…Shia’s twin brother, Ethan Shaw. We’re supposed to believe that once this lock is removed, Aria can proceed with her plan to destroy the chain of command. Not bad, as long as the audience chooses to notice that by this point in the movie the plan had no way of stopping, even if the lock was still in place. All the pieces were already in motion and Aria was pretty much unnecessary to the assassination.

Seriously, I could go on and on about the plot holes and logical misfires in this script. They range from a cell phone which can be triggered to only light up in short bursts and used to relay Morse code (I don’t know about you, but one click on mine and it stays lit for at least three seconds, no matter what) to the fact that only one mini-mart shop in all of Washington D.C. has a security camera not hooked up to any external network. The amount of disbelief needed in this film to make it enjoyable is staggering, almost more than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Transparent Ego Issues. No one actually tried to make sense of anything in the film and it runs on the belief if you move the camera around fast enough no one will notice. Well I noticed and I’m nowhere near the only one.

D.J. Caruso, the director of this silver screen misfit, is teetering on the brink of becoming Michael Bay, which I’m sure to some people is not a bad thing. He could follow this path and keep making bigger and bigger movies with less and less attention paid to the story or plot, but there’s a certain amount of respect traded to the devil of special effects and deep pocket budgets. He won a ton of people to his side with his Rear Window homage, Disturbia, and gained Shia as his modern male muse, but this recent visual splatterstorm of nonsense has brought him back to square one. The cast of the movie, which also included Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson, kept up their end of the bargain, but no one could perform their way into anything meaningful inside the web of failed logic and shark jumping. The blame firmly rests on the shoulders of screenwriters John Glenn and Travis Wright, which is frightening since these two are currently writing the remakes of Clash of the Titans and The Warriors. If there is justice in the film world, let their directors know how to rewrite on set.

Recommendation: If you’ve read the whole review to this point, this part should be fairly clear. Feel free to make up your own mind, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m a writer myself and I know this review was rather harsh, but I call it like I see it, what I saw was a total mess.

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Burn After Reading: Coen’s Bring Imperfect Wackiness

Posted by goldwriting on September 24, 2008

You mean I can only be nominated for one Oscar at a time? But whyyyyyy???

As September crosses into the present, film critics and aficionados everywhere begin grinning and twitching in excitement. Oscar movies are officially on their way to the nearest silver screen. With the ribbon of quality content being cut, the first expected contender came from the brotherly duo not unfamiliar with the Oscar machine, the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. Fresh off the heels of their Best Directing, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars last year for No Country for Old Men, the cinematic brothers brought us a new chapter in their visual memoirs, Burn After Reading, a throwback to the darkly humorous days of Fargo, which also won them a Best Original Screenplay statue. Into the mix of directorial style and writing finesse we gained the acting skills of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton. Frances McDormand is also along for the ride, but she’s a Coen staple (and also married to half the duo, Joel Coen). This movie had Oscar potential written all over it, so the only question going in was would it live up to the expectations?

Swing…the ball connects…it’s going deep…almost there…awww. Ground rule double.

This is not an Academy award winning film and certainly not one of their best, but still a nice way to slide into the season of quality content over box office boffo. Burn After Reading is a quirky, silly tale following a disc of information thought to contain CIA secrets from a disgraced and angry analyst (Malkovich), which is found in a local gym and tightly grasped by the hands of a woman (McDormand) desperate for money to cover her plastic surgeries. Mostly what the Coen brothers are known for is the depth and creativity of their characters and this film does well to cover the bases on that point. Frances McDormand plays Linda, a terribly pathetic woman so deathly afraid of aging and the current state of her body that she has blinders on to the rest of the world and the happiness it can offer. She brings the solid level of commitment and shine we’ve come to know her for. Brad Pitt joins in with what has to be his silliest and least intelligent character to date, Chad, a constantly hyper-active, exercise fanatic who works with Linda at a gym called Hardbodies. I have to imagine this was a fun role for him to play since he hardly gets to let loose like this anymore, not since 12 Monkeys. He provided a lot of the early humor in the film, but also drops one of the biggest plot twists halfway through. Clooney brings to life Harry, a ex-personal bodygaurd with a penchant for compulsive lying and an addiction to sex. George only gets to be this wacky under the tutelage of the Coen brothers, so even while it’s not his best work by any means, it’s a fun reminder that he can indeed get goofy with the rest of the gang. Tilda plays the ice queen wife of Malkovich, while also having an affair with Clooney. Watching her in this role, along with some others, I wonder when her picture will be included in the dictionary next to “emasculating”. Not to be left out of any discussion about over-the-top characters, Malkovich plays his part to the hilt, but I honestly feel his best moments are in the opening scene. There’s not much of an arc for him, so only seeing him come to life early on really provides any surprise and unseen moments.

Burn plays inside the footprints of Fargo, but never quite catches up to it. The Coens obviously know their craft and continue to put material out there with their own voice and character stamp, but this film felt a little like a step back for them. Maybe it was just a way to resettle into the dark comedy they are known for after their detour into heavy drama with No Country. Also running parallel to this is the question of the marketing campaign. Again the trailer was cut in a fashion to show one type of movie, but once you were in the theater it became something different, not wildly so, but still there is a distinct shift in tone from wacky comedy to dark comedy, and sometimes those audiences don’t mix well. It’s like seeing a trailer for Police Academy and getting Rushmore. Two great tastes that taste awful together.

Recommendation: If you’re a devout fan, you’ve already seen it anyway. If you’re on the fence, wait until video. If you’re completely on the other side of the fence, you still read this far anyway? I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks. 🙂

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Towelhead: A Hat Trick of Anxiety, Trauma and Beauty

Posted by goldwriting on September 3, 2008

I’m sure there’s a joke out there somewhere to make about a movie with themes like this, but I’m not going there. So phbbbtttt…

Nothing sets the mood like walking into a movie already brimming with controversy before it ever hits a single silver screen. So it was with the new storytime vision of Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty and creator of Six Feet Under. With those two titles under your belt, every audience member knows they are in for something darkly humorous, unusually frank and powerfully uncomfortable. Once again, Alan Ball did not disappoint on any count.

Towelhead is the story of Jasira, a young thirteen year old girl reaching the inevitable point in her life where changes occur in her body and her surroundings, but none of the adults around her represent anything close to a good role model. Without proper guidance Jasira stumbles tragically into puberty and has to fight off racism, sexism and the primal urges of others as well as her own. Nothing makes sense to her anymore and a new fight emerges when someone actually tries to care for her and make her recognize right from wrong.

This film penetrates through layer upon layer of social taboo and almost dares the audience to flinch, maybe even leave if they can’t handle it. The depths of humiliation and abuse Jasira sinks into are troubling to say the least, but there does seem to be a method to the madness behind the scenes. The story does attempt to say something important about young children, especially girls, who are victimized. Too many times once a tragedy has occured in a young girl’s life, she is forever treated like a victim and never expected to fully return to a normal, well balanced life, but Alan Ball strove to show a different possibility. He created a world where Jasira suffers terrible act upon terrible act, but continues her fight for understanding and once she does fully come to grips with what is happening to her, it becomes a fight to take back control of her own life. Also brought to bear upon the social mindset is the dispicable parenting that takes place. Jasira is an all too common example of divorced parents using their child as a weapon against each other and losing all recognition of the small impressionable person in between. It’s not to say what happens in Towelhead happens to every child, I surely hope not, but the allusions drawn here are far from unheard of.

The thematics will feel somewhat familiar to those in touch with Ball’s previous works, but he claims to have not noticed that until after filming was already done. Also part of the excuse is Ball didn’t write the story, he adapted the script from the novel of the same name by Alicia Erian, a middle eastern woman herself. Together, Alicia and Alan both defended the use of the title Towelhead in the face of protests from American Muslim groups across the nation. It’s a gray area to be sure. Alicia and Alan actually changed the name to Nothing is Private before they screened at Cannes because they were so afraid of the reaction (and it’s still listed on IMDB under that title), but after the film was sold, the studio actually asked for them to change it back. Everyone involved seemed to feel the inherent racism in the title and the shocking nature of it was integral to the story they were trying to tell. Opposers feel it is sensationalist and only helps further the use of such a deroggatory term. In my opinion, it’s a tough sell to try and make them change it since it gets embroiled in a censorship vs. artistry dispute, but I do see a double standard in our country where this movie can get released and supported, but Nas is forced to change the name of his last album away from N****r for exactly the same reasons. I think that proves the point that we may have come a long way in the fight against racism, but it’s only against some cultures, not all.

OK, off my political soapbox, back to the movie. Like I expected, Towelhead is incredibly well done, but equally uncomfortable. Numerous times I shifted around in my seat because there was no way to watch the screen and feel at ease with what I was being shown. Alan made this effect possible with strong unapologetic writing and brilliant casting. Summer Bishil takes on the impressive and heavy role of Jasira and delivers a stunning performace, which for her is nearly a debut (she’d done some children’s TV movies before, but nothing of this level or caliber). Her nievete in acting only helped to make Jasira more innocent on screen, creating even more torment when that innocence is threatened. It was a inceredibly brave role to play and I would not be surprised if her name is mentioned around Oscar time. Aaron Eckhart once again proves he can play any kind of next door neighbor, the one you invite over and cook hot dogs with or the one you make sure you lock the side doors against. This time he plays the more devious and dispicable of the two and his commitment to the role was impressive and frightening to say the least. Playing the role of Jasira’s father, Peter Macdissi had an entirely new road to travel as a man ill equipped for fatherhood in America during this day and age, while also fighting off racism both against him and from him. My feelings towards his character were very close to those of Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine. Both were paternal characters who were incredibly easy to hate, but when the film tries to redeem them at the end, it feels like too little too late. I will say in Towelhead, Peter’s character makes a stronger turn in the third act, but so much animosity is built up by then, it’s hard for an audience to empathize. Trying to save adults everyone from being portrayed as completely inept is Toni Collette. She plays a pregnant neighbor on the other side who begins to see terrible possibilities open in front of her and does her best to protect and shelter the young girl, sometimes even from Jasira herself. It was a nice touch to make the character pregnant since it added an extra level of worry and panic over whether something like this could happen to her own incoming child.

Recommendation: This is not a sunny afternoon matinee and certainly, positively not a date movie. But, if you are a fan of good, powerful and emotional filmmaking, strap yourself in because this is a heavy ride. See it in the theater for that extra added power, since it won’t be so easy to pause or change the channel.

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The House Bunny: Awkward Humor Wrapped in Pink Spandex

Posted by goldwriting on August 23, 2008

OK, that time I am sure something just touched my butt.

Searching for the right words to start this review made me feel as dumb as the main character in this movie acts. The House Bunny is a low-ball comedy pegged deep in a summer filled with high concept humor, but does it succeed as a welcome break? Yes, but just barely.

Anna Faris stars in the movie as Shelley, a Playboy Playmate seemingly past her prime, who is unceremoniously booted from Hef’s paradise. In her search for work in a world which is wildly beyond her understanding, she stumbles into a sorority house on the verge of losing its charter because no one, and I mean absolutely no one, wants to hang out with the girls who live there. Shelley sees an opportunity to bedazzle and befriend these girls, turning them into the popular chicks on campus, while the girls see Shelley as the last ditch effort to save their house. Sweatshirts turn to hot pants, frizzy turns to fabulous and piercings turn to pedicures. But, in an effort to keep some sort of moral along the way, both sides learn what it really means to be a family and how much value should be placed on what other people think of you.

So there you have the basic idea, which is nothing terribly new. Beat for beat The House Bunny could be superimposed over other recent college romps as Accepted and Sydney White (the latter being a modern day re-telling of the fairy tale, Snow White). Not to say it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The supremely odd characters created inside the sorority are worth a look, if not a shudder. Anna Faris does what she does best, play people so mentally vacant, so completely oblivious that the sheer fact they can remember to breathe on their own is a gold medal worthy accomplishment (like the Olympics reference? they’re everywhere!!!). In reality Anna is extremely intelligent and knows exactly what she is doing to keep her career moving along, in fact, she was an executive producer on this movie and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her taking the reins even more in the future. From her first big pop on screen in the original Scary Movie, it was easy to see there was more to her than a beaming smile and big, pretty eyes. She plays her roles with a fearlessness most actors can only strive for. The biggest benefit to The House Bunny is her co-stars seem equally trained and willing to look as blatantly stupid as needed. Emma Stone, whom I just reviewed in The Rocker, brings on one of the most uncontrollably awkward characters in the film and alongside Anna delivers the hands down funniest scene in the picture. As hardcore as she looked in her last film, she’s totally replaced it with social ineptitude on a magical level. Also helping to form out the rowdy bunch of misfits is Kat Dennings as their resident pierced, hoodie shielded, man-hater. Kat makes the shift through the film to uber-hottie a little too easily, but I think it was more due to not enough time to devote to her character, not the fault of the actress (who can also be seen co-starring in the upcoming Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist alongside comedy wunderkid Michael Cera). Finally, slipping in between the cracks in the credits, is Rumer Willis, daughter of action icon Bruce Willis. She also succeeds in being socially unfit due to her wearing a upper body metallic brace, possibly fashioned from some Victorian suit of armor. The main downside for Rumer is once the brace disappears, so does her character. Deserving a special mention is Dana Goodman, who plays Carrie Mae, a painfully funny mix of a lumberjack, a greco-roman wrestler, with a topping of Jim Carrey . They made no attempt to explain how someone so odd could exist, but we really didn’t need one.

Although the movie does level out and take on a level of charm, the opening thirty minutes are filled with some of the most painful and uncomfortable awkwardness I’ve been exposed to in a long time. It was there to serve the story and prove how socially oblivious these girls were, but the movie took it to such a level where I almost felt bad for laughing. Most of the opening gags were met with uneasy groans from the audience instead of chuckles and laughs of understanding. Once the girls make the switch from freak shows to femme fatales, the movie finds a much more familiar rhythm and plays that tune until the final credits. Another fault is the misuse in the cast of Kiely Williams and Kimberly Makkouk. Kiely plays Lilly, a mute girl who sends most of dialogue through text messages to the other girls. Her first appearance in the movie comes out of nowhere, or I suppose more literally she dives out of locked room off screen, but her initial outfit is terribly reminiscent of something the maid would wear in Gone With the Wind. The only reason this is worth mentioning is Kiely is the only African American actor in the movie. I’m not saying it was intentionally racist, just saying the wardrobe person took a nap through 400 years of her American History class. As for Kimberly, she plays Tanya, who has a whopping handful of lines in the whole movie and is only part of the outcast crew because she’s tiny, somewhere near dwarf status. While some people might find the few height jokes in the flick worthwhile, it just wasn’t enough to make her character necessary in the least.

I couldn’t possibly write about this without bringing up the continuing trend of casting musicians in feature films. In the role of Harmony, the pregnant member of the house, is Katherine McPhee, American Idol runner-up in Season 5. She does have an amazing voice, which is used in the ending credits and a cringe worthy karaoke scene early on, but she also got tons of notice due to her flawless looks. That imagery only continues in The House Bunny because even nine months pregnant it’s hard to believe college guys wouldn’t be tossing themselves in her path. Adding one more to the musical mix is Tyson Ritter, the lead singer of All-American Rejects. He does a turn as Colby, the long time super-crush of Emma Stone’s character. Not enough really there to say whether he’s a good actor or not, but honestly the character wasn’t cool enough either to make us understand why Emma liked him so much.

Recommendation: It’s a silly comedy that does earn some stripes in the latter half, but be prepared to ache with awkwardness throughout the opening scenes. Uncomfortability is the name of the game here. If you’re down for that, feel free to check it out, but you can honestly wait until video.

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Dakota Skye: The Whole Truth and Nothing But

Posted by goldwriting on August 14, 2008

“Do you know someone named Godot? No? Damn…”

There are few times as a movie watcher when you get to be there at the beginning. By the time a directors name gets tossed into the open arena of critics and fans alike, they have already created a handful of theatrical visions and you find yourself scouring Netflix or Blockbuster trying to walk backwards through their cinematic resume. Well, this is one of those few times where you can say you were there when. In a small number of years you can act snobby at parties and brag about how you saw this feature length debut years before anyone knew about the following successes. What’s better than having intellectual ammo at the ready to feel superior about? Not much.

Let’s talk about the movie first, before we get into the behind the scenes masterminds. Dakota Skye is a superhero tale with a twist. Dakota is a young girl, only medium cute (a line from the movie, which is terribly inaccurate) and she has a secret power. No one can lie to her. Anytime someone distorts the truth around her, their real meaning and honest thoughts appear in front of her like subtitles in a foreign film. You might think this would be a great power to have, but once you start realizing how much people lie and what they really feel about you, life can seem pretty bleak. This is where Jonah comes in, a pleasant tinged stoner who seemingly never tells a lie. Meeting Jonah throws Dakota’s world into a spin because there are only two answers, either her powers don’t work on him or he really is the last honest person on Earth. Let the teenage confusion and angst begin!

The movie is really centered around the relationship between Dakota and Jonah, which places a large amount of the success on the shoulders of Eileen Boylan (as Dakota) and Ian Nelson (as Jonah). Thankfully both step up to the task. The chemistry on screen helps the audience sink into their world, reminding us about that time when we met the first person who got underneath all our walls and social defenses. Eileen shuffles her scuffed jeans and worn-in Chucks through a performance balanced between one part slacker, one part dreamer and one part trail blazer. Top off with a dash of jaded teenager forced to grow up too fast and you have the incarnation of Dakota. Her adorable presence on screen and earnest moments really center the film and keep the audience tuned in. Coming in to lend his assistance is Ian with a humble smile, honest face and almost effortless delivery. Certain scenes for him felt so natural it could have been mistaken for improv, just letting him go and feel the moment as it happened. You can expect to see both of these young actors in the coming years, that is, if you haven’t already caught Eileen in Greek and Making Change and Ian in Bratz and True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet.

Now both of those performances would not have been possible if not for the delicate touch of director John Humber. This is his first feature film and I can guarantee it won’t be his last to reach the silver screen. Dakota Skye has the feel and rough edges of a debut filmmaker, but there is a vision, a concept and a level of skill that cannot be denied. The whole story is visually told with delicate pacing, filled with engaging moments, leading up to a beautifully touching final scene right out of any major motion picture we see today (specifically in the romance genre, that is). If this is the beginning of a career, all I can say is I am excited to see what’s coming down the line.

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