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Here’s Round 3 of my movie thoughts.  If you are reading this on Google Reader, click through to the actual post where  I’ve been embedding trailers in case anyone is interested.

123. Couples Retreat

My thought process: “Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are pretty funny, I like Jason Bateman, Jean Reno is awesome, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, and Kristin Davis are all attractive women who can do comedy, this movie should be great.”

Screenwriters Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau’s thought process: “Let’s get the studio to pay for us to fly out to a Hawaiian resort with some funny guys and attractive women. I’m sure a movie will figure itself out somehow.” Sadly, it didn’t. Jokes are few and far between. Saw this one with Adam, unfortunately we hadn’t had quite enough to drink beforehand. And we couldn’t figure out who this movie was geared toward. Pretty disappointing stuff.

122. The Maiden Heist

OK, so this direct to DVD film was written by the guy who penned You, Me, and Dupree and was directed by the guy who helmed Garfield.  So naturally, it stars Morgan Freeman, William H. Macy, Christopher Walken, and Marcia Gay Harden.  I think direct-to-DVD unfairly has a stigma attached to it, unfortunately this film isn’t helping matters much.  The premise is kinda kooky: each of the three male leads plays a security guard who has fallen in love with a piece of art (basically they are objectum-sexuals).  But the gallery has sold the exhibit to somewhere in Scandinavia, so the three decide to steal the artwork.  It is a bumbling criminals tale with few laughs, and I shudder to think what the film would have looked like with weaker leads.  Also, there’s a Breckin Meyer cameo, so that should pretty much tell you what you need to know.

121. Trick R’ Treat

A horror anthology consisting of four very loosely connected tales of Halloween.  I believe the film was very well-received by the horror community, who were (justifiably) frustrated by the distribution difficulties facing the movie.  I personally didn’t find any of the segments particularly scary, and it is easy enough to frighten me.  It boasts a relatively interesting cast, including Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb, Brian Cox and Tahmoh Penikett.  Some original stuff, but I dunno, the twists didn’t do much for me.  Of course, I only catch a couple of horror films a year.  The film was written and directed by the guy who co-wrote X2 and Superman Returns, which makes a lot of sense.

120. Surrogates

Saw this one during a triple feature at Bengies with Adam, Alice, and John.   I had an absolute blast at the drive-in (thanks for the idea, John!) which was due to the company, the movies (more on that later) and stuffing my face full of ridiculous food we had brought.  If you ever head out to Bengies, and you should, don’t listen to John.  There are plenty of places nearby to get dinner to bring in.  I also should have followed my cardinal rule of watching baseball: bring one more layer of clothing than you’ll think you’ll need.  Anyway, Surrogates feels like a Philip K. Dick knockoff.  The story was interesting enough, but it seemed to be forced into becoming a Bruce Willis summer blockbuster, resulting in a bloated mess that didn’t really need to be so broad.

119. Gentlemen Broncos

I love my name, but I gotta say, people I share it with have been letting me down in a big way.  Subway is dead to me and I know where I’m not going for jewelry.  There are a few baseball players named “Jared” or some variant, but they are all hurt or sucky this year.  And then’s Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite and this movie.  Gentleman Broncos definitely shares a sensibility with the former, but at least this one is tolerable.  The film’s three different plots are all vaguely interesting, but it is exceedingly clear that I just don’t get Hess’s cinematic world.  I haven’t seen Flight of the Conchords yet (I know, I’m a bad person), but I like Jemaine Clement (check out Eagle vs. Shark), which is topical because it was announced today he’s going to be a baddie in MIB III.  If there’s one reason to see this movie, it would be Sam Rockwell in a dual role where both characters are over the top outrageous.

118. Bright Star

I’ve already covered this Oscar nominee (Best Costume Design).  I was going to say it is a typical Oscar period piece, but that’s not really true.  Oscar period films tend, in my opinion, to be much more grand than this one.  Bright Star felt small and contained.  I think it was intentionally light and airy, but it doesn’t quite work.  The cast is pretty solid, though.  Between this, The International, Brideshead Revisited, and I’m Not There, Ben Whishaw has been on an exceptionally terrible streak.  Abbie Cornish likely finished around 7th in Oscar voting and is primed for a breakout.  And my love for Paul Schneider is pretty well-documented at this point.

117. Extract

Oh Mike Judge.  You are running out of excuses, I think.  Yes, your movies haven’t been marketed very well.  But in this case, that’s because there wasn’t really anything to market.  The story meanders all over the place and I think pretty much every supporting character (i.e. everybody other than Jason Bateman, showing up for the second time this post) could have been eliminated without losing much.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still gems here and there, and Judge does know how to create memorable characters.  But the plot is a mess.  A waste of a first-rate cast including Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig, and That Guy extraordinaires Clifton Collins, Jr. and Beth Grant.  The Gene Simmons cameo is pretty fantastic.  Oh, and as I pointed out to Brian, between this film and Couples Retreat, Jason Bateman has gotten to hook up with both female stars of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  The bum.

116. Serious Moonlight

Penned by the late Adrienne Shelley and directed by Cheryl Hines, the film shares a certain sensibility with Shelley’s Waitress that I don’t quite get.  I don’t want to say that you have to be a woman to appreciate this movie, but I think it helps.  I say that only because I can’t really imagine a film where the gender roles are reversed.  Here, Meg Ryan ties up (well, duct tapes up) Timothy Hutton, her husband of a decade, until he loves her again and agrees not to run off to Paris to propose to his girlfriend (Kristen Bell, in her second appearance of the post).  Justin Long also shows up, which probably few people think is as great as I do.  I respect a lot about this film.  Most of the action takes places in two rooms, and it rarely seems slow.  But the characters seem like such unpleasant people and their motivations seem poorly defined.  Also, like most things in my life, needed more Kristen Bell.

115. World’s Greatest Dad

Sometimes I think that a “dark comedy” is code for a film that isn’t really funny, but doesn’t contain much drama either.  I know John disagrees with me here, but I didn’t really get this one.  It is kinda impossible to describe the film without getting all spoilery (the trailer gives it an admirable try).  I will say that I respect Bobcat Goldthwait for putting together a story about a single dad and his kid where the kid is a snot-nosed punk with seemingly very little in the way of redeeming qualities.  So in a way I get the structure of the film, what it is trying to say.  I just don’t think the path it takes is very entertaining.

114. I Love You, Beth Cooper

This movie had a little bit of buzz surrounding it, since it was directed by Chris Columbus, but tanked something fierce.  And rightfully so.  The high schooler loser has a crush on the class hottie is a well-worn path, and this film doesn’t really have much to add to the genre.  If you’ve ever not liked a movie for being too predictable, you are gonna want to stay far, far away from this one.  Also, I think we’ve reached the point in dorky guy/attractive girl movies where we need at least one halfway decent reason that the girl should get with the guy, other than that she had an obnoxious boyfriend who always bosses her around.  Hayden Panettiere is far and away the best thing about the movie, and it is unfortunate she wasn’t given a better script with which to work.  Alan Ruck shows up, as does Cynthia Stevenson who has apparently carved out the incredibly specific career of playing mom in high school romantic comedies.  The film does contain one of my favorite lines of the year: “Am I everything you masterbated to?”

Coming up next time: a non-Oscar Holocaust movie, one of this year’s Oscar nominees in a non-Oscar role, and another Oscar-nominated film.

We’re tackling some of the smaller categories this year too. And there’s nothing twenty year old guys enjoy more than costumes and makeup!

Jared tackles Best Costume

Nominees: Bright Star, Coco Before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, and The Young Victoria

I only saw three of the contenders, so my opinion here means even less than usual.  I would like to take a second to note that however bad you think the Academy is with falling in love with period pieces, the Costume Design category is even worse.  It is the respite of the Oscar contenders no one saw, and which were just a little too crappy to get nominations anywhere else. 

Anyway, with that off my chest, I didn’t see Coco Before Chanel, but it is a film about fashion, so that seems pretty cheap.  The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the other one I missed, but I’m not sure it would setting a good example for the kids to pick a nominee so clearly influenced by drugs of some sort.  The lockiest of all locky locks may have been The Young Victoria in this category. The costumes left no particular impression on me.  My problem with Nine is that it is so obviously informed by 8 1/2, so the costuming feels a little less original.  So, Bright Star it is.  And I’m kinda OK with that.  Their period garb seemed to be of a type I hadn’t seen all that often.  And it was refreshing to see period attire from a class other than the elite or the poor.

Next, John looks at Best Makeup

Nominees: Il Divo, Star Trek, The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria is primarily a hairdressing nomination, which is fine but sort of uninteresting. Star Trek has crazy alien makeup so it wins. But my main joy in this category is that Academy members will seek out Il Divo, a dense Italian political drama that’s absolutely unintelligible. The utter confusion I’m sure it caused amongst the Academy voting public gives me mischievous delight. But it does some really terrific aging makeup that I didn’t even notice while watching. Check out the before and after photos.

I also just rewatched District 9 and its exclusion here is absolutely dumbfounding. There are some incredible prosthetics in this film, along with the effects of the main character’s transition from human to alien. It’s so realistic it’s disgusting. And yet the hairdos of a queen snuck in instead.

Thanks to popular demand, we’ve decided to bring back the insightful series of posts we ran last year in the week leading up to Oscar nominations.  As you might recall, in Grouching the Oscars, we finally put to use all the Oscar movies we’ve seen by sharing our hopes and expectations for the list.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  Let’s kick things off by asking the team: What bone fide long shots should get a nomination?

Adam: No comedy on Oscar night would give me a Hangover

Is The Dark Knight still in the running for this year? No? Then I guess I will have to go with The Hangover.

What is it about comedies that make it impossible for the Academy to nominate them for Best Picture? Does no one in the Academy have a sense of humor? But I don’t think that is the case as what “serious” person could vote for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a legitimate (and former front-runner) nomination for Best Picture? Who can possibly talk about Alec Baldwin being nominated for Best Supporting Actor with a straight face? Maybe the Academy thinks The Hangover is too main-stream, too hip, and/or too generational (at least, a generation other than their own).

Whatever the reason, it is almost guaranteed not to secure a nomination (in almost every category). Another year, another disappointment by the Academy. If they keep this up, they’ll have to do a lot more than increase the number of Best Picture nominees to increase viewership.

Jared: Without Paul Schneider, the Academy would be missing a Bright Star

I had a little trouble with this category because some things I’m rooting for seem to be hovering around that last one in/first one out spot.  But I didn’t want John to yell at me, and Adam beat me to the punch on The Hangover (which I would have used for script).  So I’ll go with Paul Schneider for Supporting Actor.  Part of it, of course, is my appreciation of his prior work (I literally just now realized the oddity of him starring in All the Real Girls and Lars and the Real Girl.)  And yes, part of it is that I want to justify putting Bright Star in the super secret Golden Grouches worksheet.  But, looking back at my writeup of the movie, I called Schneider “clearly the highlight of the film” and I guess my appreciation hasn’t diminished since then.  In a period film light on, well, just about everything, Schneider managed to shine.  He provided comic relief without going over the top (something more difficult to do in a slight film like Bright Star, I think) and served as friction to create much of the drama in the film.  But perhaps the best thing about the performance is how Schneider gets his character into a subtle space between hero and anti-hero, friend and user.  It is a fascinating look at what the stereotypical”best friend” role can be.  He’s not a good guy, he’s not really a bad guy, he’s just interesting.  It is a complex role, one I may even have missed if not for this here blog, but it would be nice to see Oscar voters be more perceptive than I was.

Brian: Viggo Mortensen Should Walk The Road to Oscar

Probably my favorite bad-ass actor out there, I’d like to see Viggo nominated for Best Actor, in part because he was great in The Road but also because it’s the movie’s best shot at being recognized period. For a character with no name at all (listed as “Man” in the credits, Viggo is superb in creating a lot out of nothing. The sparse landscape of post-apocalyptic Earth is matched by the equally sparse script and character development. So much of the fear, love, and existential dread comes via the acting, and I don’t know if another actor could have pulled off the role and made the movie bearable to watch.

John: Keep the Academy In the Loop

The single best written film I saw in 2009 was In the Loop. And it really wasn’t even close. It has everything you want in a script, from crackling dialogue to a premise that never falls short. The large ensemble of characters is all fleshed out, but not to the point of diminishing their impact as satirical caricatures. And the jokes come a mile a minute, from broad, expletive-laden comedic rants and one-liners to over-arching clever thematic points on government, power, and war.

I don’t want to detract from other elements of the film, such as the terrific acting and spot-on direction, but the script would work on its own as a piece of hilarious literature. We need more films with writing like In the Loop and it needs to find a place in the Adapted Screenplay slate.

If anyone else out there has other long shots whose names they’d like to hear read on February 2nd, please chime in, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why don't you whine about it some more?

Why don't you whine about it some more?

Period romances have an inherent edge in the quest to be compelling, I think.  Just seems it is a lot easier to find obstacles to love in the class and gender boundaries of the 19th century than today.  Girl has money, guy doesn’t, girl’s family won’t let them marry.  See, just takes five seconds to set up the story.

Of course, that simplicity is a double-edged sword.  While it can take just a scene to set up a plausible and engaging romantic entanglement, that leaves the whole rest of the movie to figure out ways to make that romance interesting.  Bright Star, unfortunately, isn’t up to the task.

Even if you don’t know anything about John Keats’s life, the film isn’t really particularly surprising.  Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne, a somewhat educated young woman of some means who is a bit proud of her sewing career.  As soon as Keats (Ben Whishaw), a young poet of little renown and even less money enters her life, it is clear (by all the usual ways) they’ll be an item.  The problem is that the film never really advances much beyond that stage.

The movie in a nutshell: Fanny is whiny and Keats is wimpy.  Other people claim the film has subtle, delicate layers.  But frankly, I’m didn’t see that at all.  There isn’t really much to their story, or much reason to get invested in the characters.  Their courtship was vague and detached.  I never saw a moment where Fanny falls in love or even a reason why she does.  And Keats seems to mostly ignore her.  There is very little romantic bickering.  And the scene where they do get together feels accidental.  It is kinda sorta a forbidden romance, but only in the sense that Fanny and Keats exert the least possible effort to try to get together.  I half expected any of the secondary character to slap either Keats or Fanny and excoriate them for their inaction.  Basically, in my mind, the story held very little interest as a romance, and there wasn’t really anything else there besides the romance.

Other than the comic relief, which was far and away the best part of the film.  There were several legitimately funny moments in the film, and increasingly they became focal points.  Certainly a large part of that is due to Paul Schneider, but I’d also spread the love around to the rest of the cast and writer/director Jane Campion.  Schneider plays the portly Charles Armitage Brown who has what kids these days call a bromance going with Keats.  A fellow poet, Brown is wholly devoted to his and Keats’ work, well, except for partaking in some sensual pleasures, and is (rightly, in my mind) skeptical of Fanny.  Obnoxious and overbearing, Brown is clearly the highlight of the film.

Bright Star has been bandied about in talks of all the major Oscar categories, save supporting actress.  Frankly, I think it’d be a mistake for the film to receive any nominations.  I’ve covered why I think the film is boring and how I was put off by Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw.  I don’t like to speak about direction, but I will say that I found the cuts between scenes to be highly distracting, so I guess I have to blame Campion for that.  I wouldn’t really be upset if Schneider picked up a supporting actor not.  He did a lot with a relatively slight role; had he been given a more substantial character, I’d be much more confident in handing him a nomination.

February 2020
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