January 31, 2008

Coming Attractions

Sometimes when I'm stopping by IMDB, I go on a little link-to-link journey and it's interesting where it ends up. When I just checked the other day, I was delighted at what I found.

At last one of my favorite book series is being turned into a film! It's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, a lovely "mystery" series in Botswana that's really more about the curiosities of peoples' personalities.

It looks like this will be a TV movie, first released on the BBC. Interestingly, the lead character (Precious Ramotswe) will be played by singer Jill Scott (pictured here with the author). But what is AWESOME is that my favorite character, Grace Makutsi will be played by my best friend, Anika Noni Rose, late of Dreamgirls! Woot! I can hardly wait.

Oh, and in case you've been living under a rock - Lost premieres tomorrow! So what if it's only going to be 8 episodes in a row - I just want to see it!

January 29, 2008

3 Oscar Reviews


The age of the sweeping Ivory-Merchant period film has come and gone. But that doesn't stop other directors from trying. Witness the attempt made by Atonement.

We've got the rich cinematography, impressive costumes and emotional acting. Unfortunately the plot falls short. In fact, by the time we got to the "twist ending" I was scratching my head and saying, "Really? That's it?"

Still, it was pleasing enough to keep my interest to the end. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy give admirable performances although their passion for each other is a tad muted. Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan is certainly precocious, but I wasn't blown away. I was far more impressed by Romola Garai as the older Briony, and Vanessa Redgrave as the eldest.

Trivia tidbit - Oscar-nominated writer/director Anthony Minghella plays the man interviewing Redgrave!

Michael Clayton

Thanks to all its nominations, this film is back in theaters and I'm really glad I saw it. Let me figure out how to explain the movie.

OK - remember Erin Brokovich? Small legal firm takes on evil corporation that's been poisoning innocents, eventually winning the day? Michael Clayton is pretty much the opposite. Tilda Swinton heads the evil corporation, and Tom Wilkinson is the head litigator that's been keeping the case in legal limbo for 6 years. When he cracks and grows a conscience, George Clooney the "fixer" for the firm is sent to clean up the debacle.

The film starts at the end, and then we go back to see how we got there. While some may not like that device, it worked for me, keeping me guessing as to how we'd get there. And unlike most movies I've seen recently, our group was buzzing and debating about it well after the end. It's the kind of complex film that sits well on the Oscar platform, and I'd be happy to see it win Best Picture.

The acting nods are all well-deserved. Clooney artfully balances cleaning up his work messes while his own life is a real mess. (And can we get a round of applause for that fine ass of his?) Swinton is actually quite funny particularly as she practices her interview answers. But the best performance comes from Wilkinson, sitting on the precarious edge between sanity and the truth.

La Vie En Rose

This was a Netflix rental, but considering it's up for 3 Oscars, it merits a more thorough review than my usual 25 words.

This biography of the premier French chanteuse Edith Piaf plays with a dual timeline narrative, showing us Edith's growth to becoming a star, while we alternately witness her final days before she succumbed to liver cancer. The script is a bit lacking, yet we get a solid understanding of the woman behind the song.

Despite any shortcomings in writing or direction, the movie is owned, INHABITED by Marion Cotillard. She commands the stage at one moment, is drunk and broken the next, and later bitterly remorseful. Her whole performance can be read in her big saucer-like eyes. Although I knew she wasn't doing the singing, at times it was hard to imagine I wasn't witnessing the real thing.

Although Julie Christie will be tough competition, I'd be thrilled to see the "little sparrow" take home that Best Actress award - incredibly well-deserved. (And while we're at it, let me throw my hat in for the remarkable make-up. Good luck, Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald!)

January 23, 2008

The Oscars - Will They or Won't They?

It's that time again, folks - Oscar time! Which is not quite as exciting as it normally would be for me.

First of all, we have that whole, "Will there be a ceremony?" confusion and angst. By now you've certainly read many articles and blogs debating the topic. For awhile I had thought the ceremony was doomed, but recent rumors about a settlement with the DGA makes me wonder otherwise. We shall see. As for me, I'm investigating alternate locations to watch the ceremony, as we will have just moved into our new place, and let's just say I don't have complete faith in Comcast.

The other real issue is that the movies this year have been less than thrilling. While a few have certainly been exciting, that doesn't make them Oscar bait (i.e. The Bourne Ultimatum). So instead we've had a year of many "small" films which apparently are about old violent men. Seriously - I think the biggest accessories at the Oscars this year will be weaponry!

But enough of this doom and gloom talk - let's discuss those nominations. Because no matter what else you think about what will happen this year, you have to admit the noms themselves were quite interesting. Let's get right to the big categories.

The most buzzed about surprise nomination was in the Best Actor category, for Tommy Lee Jones. I haven't heard much about the performance, but those that have seen it say the nomination is well-deserved. But you can set aside that, as the prognosticators say Daniel Day-Lewis has this one wrapped up. I'll have to go see There Will Be Blood to judge for myself. It was nice, though, to see Johnny Depp get a nod for Sweeney Todd - a bloody movie that was anchored by his performance.

Amongst the Supporting Actors, a couple were not surprises - Javier Bardem (I guess for that horrid haircut?) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (for the bad mustache?). Personally I was tickled to see Hal Holbrook score a nom, as he's always been a curmudgeon that I love (and you know I just want to see Dixie Carter walk the red carpet).

Although there was talk about Cate Blanchett scoring a double-nomination, I was still surprised to see her get one for Best Actress. She certainly deserved it for almost single-handedly carrying Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Ever since we saw Away From Her on a plane, I knew that Julie Christie was a lock. And yet I find I'm happiest to see Ellen Page up there - that's when I started to get really excited for Juno's chances! I had hoped to maybe see a nomination for Amy Adams in Enchanted, but I assume with time she'll be up for more. La Vie En Rose and The Savages are top on my list of movies to see next, so I'll be able to really judge this category soon.

The nomination we all knew Cate Blanchett would get was for Supporting Actress. I haven't even seen I'm Not There, and I'm convinced she's inhabited by Bob Dylan's essence! The nomination for Saoirse Ronan was a bit generous (a fine performance, but not extraordinary - more on Atonement in my next post). I'm happy for Ruby Dee, who is a legend and would give a kick-ass acceptance speech.

I've heard great things about Persepolis (and saw an impressive preview yesterday), but is there any question that Ratatouille was the year's Best Animated Feature?

Normally I'd not be talking about Best Song at this point, but this year I have a reason! Once you set aside the 3 songs from Enchanted (charming, but not why the movie was great) and that one from that movie no one saw, there is but one choice. And that, my friends, is the divine "Falling Slowly" from Once. To see Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova perform that song and then claim the Oscar will be utter bliss. The movie was criminally overlooked for other awards, so please give it this one!

This was a banner year for women, with a record 4 of 10 Screenplay nominations going to the ladies! This could be the best shot for a Juno win (Original Screenplay). The Adapted Screenplay category is a crapshoot - any guesses out there?

With the Best Director nominees, you can assume Julian Schnabel is out. I can't even predict amongst the other 4, but I know people like those Coen boys...

And for Best Picture - I love Juno! Oh wait, that wasn't the question. Well, I love it anyway and would do a dance (slightly awkward and self-conscious accompanied by acoustic guitar) if it won. The others are so...old men and guns! I can't imagine how hard it will be for the NRA to choose which film to support.

So let's cross our fingers that the producers cave and give the WGA what it deserves and the Oscars go on as planned!

January 21, 2008

Amazing in Anchorage

At long last, The Amazing Race has come to an end. And for once, the finale had not a single team that was completely detestable. That was because shrieking harpy Jennifer and her not-cursing partner Nate were eliminated. On her birthday. Ha! I think it was payback for the dumbasses saying they were looking forward to eating "all that great Thai food" in Taiwan.

Thus we were left with 3 teams racing to the finale. Nate and his grandfather Don have been pretty cool, although a bit dull for my taste. But Don is the oldest person ever to complete the race, and that's impressive. They came in 3rd place, because Nate committed the age-old sin of not reading a clue properly in the final destination city of Anchorage.

Our runners-up were Ron & Christina. She's certainly been a trooper, putting up with her father's highly inappropriate browbeating for weeks. But it does appear (at least from the editing) that he got better once they left India, and maybe he really learned something about parenting. One would hope that when he's seen the broadcasts, he'll really come to understand how bad his behavior had been.

But our winners were TK & Rachel! Their good attitude and supportive partnership helped them survive a Speed Bump along the way (a fate that those loveable goths couldn't overcome) in the previous leg. And it was Rachel's calm and rational thinking that led her to solve a diabolic final puzzle, giving her team the edge to make it to the finish. After such a horrid "All-Stars" season, it was great to see the nice guys actually finish first. Considering I was fond of them even at the start of the race, it's a bit of a miracle!

January 04, 2008

If a Model Stomps in an Empty Palace

Mea culpa - I've been putting off my America's Next Top Model finale recap for weeks because I didn't like it very much. But with the New Year - I resolve to recap episodes, even if they suck it! So let's get on with it.

Previously on Top Model, Bianca was a bitch and learned that karma is, too. And I predicted that it was highly unlikely that Saleisha would lose the title.

As is the custom, the top 3 move right into a commercial and photo shoot for Cover Girl, knowing that the winner will have her ads appear in some issue of a magazine that none of us is likely to see. This time around the product is some kind of fruity lip stuff. Chantal will be lemon, Saleisha will be tangerine and Jenah is berry. Coincidentally, I love berries above all other fruits.

Anywho, there is the usual struggling with lines, but none of the girls really suck. But we get lowlights of Jenah's challenges (as foreshadowing) as well as Saleisha's (to add "dramatic tension").

Suddenly we're at panel. Prizes! Judges! The guest judge is a Chinese designer, and as is the custom, the 2 finalists will "stomp to the death" in his "fashion show." Note the quotation marks - they'll be important later.

The girls are first asked to each name who they think has the most and least potential. All of them have seen enough of the show to know that "myself" is the only acceptable answer to the most potential question (see also: Dionne, Michelle). Saleisha and Chantal take this opportunity to double-team Jenah, saying things like, "I wouldn't want my sisters to look up to her." Um...OUCH! Seriously, those two went a bit too far in their criticism.

Naturally this means that when Jenah goes up for her critique, she has a small breakdown, sending Tyra into her full-on Typrah mode. Typrah draws out of Jenah all her hurts, like the fact that Jenah practically raised her little sisters. Typrah closes this moment with the cheezy line, "Remember when you were trying to find yourself at the Great Wall? I think you just did it."

The photos are all pretty good, so before you know it, Tyra is standing in front of 3 beautiful girls, holding only 2 photos. First photo goes to Chantal, which is pretty much ridiculous. Will Saleisha and Jenah please step forward?

Saleisha, the judges came up with a faux criticism that you "still may not be high fashion enough." Jenah, we need you to not be in the final 2 so Saleisha can win. And thus Saleisha gets the photo.

Jenah takes her defeat rather graciously. I was really pissed, but I imagine if anyone can carve out her own career in fashion without Tyra's spoon-fed help, it will be Jenah.

So...the final 2 go get ready for their fashion show. They learn that there will be all kinds of performers including men on stilts. Make-up is applied, and some surprisingly fierce outfits are put on. Time for the show!

First, a bunch of performer extras go and line the "runway" in a big palace. Then we get slow-motion shots of the judges all walking the runway to their places. And although cheezy - I kind of enjoyed seeing them all work the runway as they might have in days gone by. Finally, the audience comes in. Oh wait! There is no audience. Seriously. This fashion show? Is being performed for four people. And a bunch of paid performer extras. How is this a "fashion show?" Answer - it is not. Like the final outcome of this season, it was all manufactured.

Anywho - they walk. Saleisha works her hips, Chantal works her height. On Chantal's final pass, a man on stilts who was probably given 500 yuan by Tyra "trips" on Chantal's garment. Chantal has the basic human emotion of compassion and looks back to see he's all right - and then finishes.

Final judging! A recap of the "fashion show" causes Twiggy to say that Saleisha's walk was a bit too bouncy. But it's Chantal's apparent blunder that gets more criticism. Setting that aside, let's compare portfolios!

And here we have the ultimate demonstration of why this final 2 sucks. They only compare 3 photos. Three! Usually they look at 6 or so. But they could only do 3, as there were only 3 photo shoots where Saleisha looked like a model. Which is exactly why they kept Jenah out of the finals - her portfolio would have blown away any competitor except maybe Heather.

Whatever, let's cut to the chase - Saleisha is the winner. She screams and cheers for herself, and I throw up a little in my mouth. And of course even more evidence has surfaced that perhaps Saleisha was given preferential treatment. Ugh. Most unsatisfying finale since the tattoo neck won Project Runway.

Here's hoping that the next cycle turns out better! And with the writers' strike, it will be here before you know it.