Monday, February 25, 2013

The 85th Oscar Show Aftermath

February 25, 2013

Hilarious opening sequence by new Oscar emcee Seth McFarlane, expectedly it is irreverent, reflecting Seth's brand of comedy on the TV animated series, "Family Guy". He goes through the nominated films one by one.  The funniest one I recall was that when he remarked how Daniel Day Lewis was so in character as Lincoln, did he want to save Don Cheadle when he meets him?  Haha!

Seth's monologue was interrupted by a video message from Capt. James T. Kirk (an ever-hammy William Shatner) telling Seth to stop because he is going to receive dismal  reviews for his emceeing. 

Kirk shows a video with Seth singing about seeing actresses breasts in various films which was really something else! It may be the most irreverent song sung in the Oscars since the South Park song.  I found it quite funny, but I realize it is quite disrespectful to the women named in the song.  Here is a video of that controversial song.  Watch at your own risk:

He makes up for that with a dance number featuring  Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron, while Seth sang "The Way You Look Tonight".  We know Channing can dance but I never saw Charlize dance that way before, and they did very well indeed. 

Shatner then tells him the reviews are still bad and shows him another video where Seth spoofed the air crash scene of "Flight" using sock puppets..  He made up for that by having Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe sing "High Hopes".  Again, I have never seen those two guys sing before.  This was followed by a clip showing Seth seduce Sally Field!  He makes up for that last clip by singing "Be Our Guest".  I thought that was one number too long.

The first award is Best Supporting Actor, presented by last year's Best Supporting Actress, Octavia Spencer from "The Help"/  All the nominees this year are already previous Oscar winners.  The Oscar goes to Christoph Waltz of "Django Unchained"! Wow, I didn't expect that one.  I was expecting and wanted Robert de Niro of "Silver Linings Playbook" to win it.

The next presenters were Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy. They had such a dreadful dead-air conversation about I do not know exactly what.  The Best Animated Short is "Paperman" by Disney which is the favorite.  But I liked the artistry of "Adam and Dog" better.  I even thought "The Longest Daycare" starring Maggie Simpson had a chance, being the first Simpsons film ever nominated for an Oscar.  The Best Animated Feature Film is "Brave." Didn't like that one, I thought "Wreck-It Ralph" will win. But my heart thought "ParaNorman" should win.

Noted that they do not say "Academy Award winner" when they introduced Reese Witherspoon. Merely calling her a n "Oscar winning actress" does not resonate too well.  She presented clips of the first three films nominated for Best Picture:  "Les Miserables", "Life of Pi" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Avengers (Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson) unite on the Oscar stage to present Cinematography! Of those five, everyone had been an Oscar nominee except for Evans.  The winner is "Life of Pi". Very deserving with all the vivid scenes at sea in that film. But I would have wanted to see lush "Skyfall" to win that one.  The Visual Effects Oscar of course goes to "Life of Pi". The realistic visual effect that is Richard Parker is the life of that film.  The orchestra music which told the winner to wind up his speech was "Jaws"!

Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston present award for Costume Design. He jokes about having to wax, and Jen says "welcome to the club".  The winner is "Anna Karenina", as is well-deserved!  For Make-up and Hairstyling (the latter newly added to the name of the category), the winner is "Les Miserables"! Another deserving winner!

Halle Berry presents a "Fifty Years of Bond" tribute.  The montage is quite a memory rush.  It was too bad that they were not able to invite even one single Bond actor to grace the affair.  The presence of Sean Connery and Daniel Craig would have been perfect.  Dame Shirley Bassey on the Oscar stage now to sing "Goldfinger". She belted that song as fiercely and strongly as ever!

Jamie Foxx and Kerri Washington present Best Short Film Live Action. Oscar goes to "Curfew". Did not see any of the nominees, but I just found out they were on all this time!  I should check it out.  This was followed by the presentation of the Oscar for Best Documentary Short to "Inocente".  Haven't seen that as well.

Great to hear the theme of "Schindler's List" again as Liam Neeson comes out to introduce the next three Best Pic nominees, "Argo", "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty".  Seth commented afterwards that ZDT celebrates "women's innate ability to never ever let things go." Funny one, Seth.

Ben Affleck presents Documentary Feature. Winner is "Searching for Sugar Man." I have seen this and I think this is well deserved. I will write out my review of that film soon. Would have wished that the subject of that documentary, the singer Rodriguez, was there himself.

Seth compares this Oscar Sunday to church, only with more people praying.  Haha!  Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain come out to present Best Foreign Language Film to the haunting theme of "Cinema Paradiso"! Of course, "Amour" wins as expected for Austria. But I did not really think this was the best of the five nominees. Director Michael Haneke receives the award for his film.

John Travolta presents the cast of Les Miserables to sing!!! This is it -- my most awaited part of the show!  First though, Catherine Zeta Jones sings "All that Jazz" with an impressive live (?) performance.  Then, Jennifer Hudson now to sing her Dreamgirls number "And I Am Telling You." Of course she blows it up from the first note!  Finally, the cast of the Les Mis movie sings live the anthem "One More Day".  Hugh Jackman and Eddie Redmayne can really hit those high notes.  I believe those few wonky bass notes at the end may have come from Russell Crowe.  Haha!  But overall, it was a fantastic song number.  Here is the video:

Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana present the technical awards.  It used to be just a female presenter before.

Mark Wahlberg and and his animated teddy bear co-star Ted (voiced by emcee Seth McFarlane) are presenting together. Will this be another Rob Lowe - Snow White fiasco?  A bit naughty, but not an outright disaster at all.  The Sound Mixing winner is "Les Miserables"! I thought this one was deserving because it must have been a challenge to mis the live singing the cast had to do.  Incredibly, the Sound Editing award ended in A TIE! "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Skyfall" share the honor, and both are deserving, as with the other nominees frankly.

McFarlane has a joke about the missing Von Trapp family at the end of "Sound of Music" in order to introduce the next presenter, Christopher Plummer. That was funny. Plummer made a nice note that all these Best Supporting Actress nominees started in their teens.  I actually remember Helen Hunt as a teen in the old Swiss Family Robinson TV series!  Of course, Anne Hathway wins this one. We knew it since that first video of "I Dreamed a Dream" came out even before the movie did.  I am sure her wistful "It came true..." at the beginning of her speech annoyed some people, haha!

Sandra Bullock to present award to Film Editors. I thought this should go to "Argo" for that final sequence at the Teheran Airport alone. And it did!

Jennifer Lawrence introduces Adele to sing "Skyfall". Adele had all her brassy pipes going, but the number was not too impressive for me despite the big choir backing her up.

Nicole Kidman out to introduce the last three Best Pic nominees:  "Silver Linings Playbook," "Django Unchained" and "Amour".

Daniel Radcliffe and a limping Kristen Stewart come out to present the newly named Production Design category (previously known as Art Direction).  I thought the award will go to the very elegant "Anna Karenina".  However, I consider it an upset that the Oscar went to considerably more stuffy set of "Lincoln"! Did not expect that at all.

Selma Hayek presents the Honorary Oscars. One was to a documentarian.  The other went to a stunt man.  The only recognizable name for me was Jeffrey Katzenberg who won the Jean Herscholt award.

Academy Award winner George Clooney presents the In Memoriam segment. Ernest Borgnine. Jack Klugman. Celeste Holm. Michael Clarke Duncan. Charles Durning. Tony Scott. Hal David. Nora Ephron. Ray Bradbury. Richard Zanuck. Marvin Hamlisch.  After this last name, Barbra Streisand pays tribute to Hamlisch by singing "The Way We Were"!

The "Chicago" cast (Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah, Catherine Zeta Jones and Richard Gere) reunites to present the music awards. "Life of Pi" wins for Best Original Score. Deserving.  The Original Song nominees were named.  Norah Jones sings the last nominee live. Very boring song.  Best Original Song is inevitably given to "Skyfall".

Dustin Hoffman and Charleze Theron to present the writing awards.  Adapted Screenplay goes to "Argo". I did so want "Silver Linings" to win this one.  Quentin Tarantino wins Original Screenplay for "Django Unchained" as predicted widely. Great. He is right to say that this is the writers year! All nominees were all too good.

Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda come out to present the award for Best Director.  OMG, the winner is Ang Lee!!!! After Ben Affleck was snubbed, people thought Steven Spielberg will win his third Oscar.  But that was not to be.  I am not unhappy that Ang Lee won.

Jean Dujardin presents the Best Actress award.  Jennifer Lawrence wins it! Yeah! A standing ovation! She trips on her way up the stage!!!

JLaw Trips and Falls on the way to her Oscar
(Photo Credit:

Seth said, "Our next presenter needs no introduction..." then he just  leaves the stage, and Meryl Streep comes out, to present Best Actor.  The film clip they show for Denzel Washington was one big spoiler for those who have not watched the film!  Daniel Day Lewis wins his THIRD Best Actor Oscar!  He was funny when he quipped that he was up to portray Margaret Thatcher, and that Meryl Streep was Steven Spielberg's first choice for "Lincoln"!  LOL, DDL.

The Four Oscar-Winning Actors Pose Together
(Photo credit: The Oscars FB Page)

Jack Nicholson onstage looking drunk as only he could.  Haha!  Then surprisingly, Michelle Obama and her bangs spoke from the White House by live feed.  They will present Best Picture.  And the Oscar goes to ARGO!  Producer Grant Heslov stood between his co-producers George Clooney and Ben Affleck, and announced "Three sexiest producers alive!" LOL!  Ben Affleck then took the mike to deliver an impassioned thank you speech for his victory.  "Argo" is the first Best Picture without a Best Director nomination since "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1989.

The producers of "Argo":  "Three sexiest producers alive!"  LOL!
(Photo credit: The Oscars FB Page)

And just when you thought the show is over, Seth sings one last song dedicated to "losers" with first-time red carpet host Kristen Chenowith. A bit anti-climactic but they ended on one big last note!

Anna Karenina (2012)

February 25, 2013

"Anna Karenina" is a classic in Russian literature by Leo Tolstoi. I only know the basic story about a married Russian aristocrat and her passionate and ill-fated affair with a younger count. I generally do not like stories that deal with adultery. But this one is based on a famous novel which I have not yet read, and this film had multiple Oscar nominations, so I wanted to see how this film directed by Joe Wright will tell the story.

This version of "Anna Karenina" is a beautifully-filmed, technically- polished production. All the technical aspects are practically perfect! The cinematography was breath-taking. The editing was exciting. The production design was impeccable. The music was effectively moving. Joe Wright's idea of setting the story to unfold on a stage was artistic, imaginative and inspired. 

I believe what held this film from being the best it could be was the cast. I know Keira Knightley is a Joe Wright favorite. She had been in his two most famous films, "Pride and Prejudice" (2005) and "Atonement" (2007), both of which had Keira perfectly casted. As Anna, there seemed to be a problem in conveying the motivation for sacrificing her ideal marriage to Karenin (Jude Law in an understated role). 

I think the main problem is the lack of chemistry between Keira and Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played her illicit lover Count Vronsky. If not for that perfectly shot dance scene in the ballroom where Anna and the Count gave in to their lust, the rest of the film will make you wonder what the fuss about the Count was all about. Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky looked pretty, pale, sulky and weak, not the dominating alpha male which would sweep the sophisticated Anna off her feet.

Well, this movie did make me want to seek out the other film versions of the novel for comparison. It also made me want to read the source novel itself to see how such a mundane story of unfaithfulness be as timeless as this one had been. This movie, while beautiful to look at, failed to make me see why.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How I Rank the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film Nominees

February 23, 2013

The Oscar Awards ceremony had been a personal holiday for me for the past years.  I confess that I do not go to work just to watch it live.  In this Internet age, you really need to watch live if you want the suspense of watching any competition event anymore since spoilers come out as it happens.

I have already ranked the Best Picture nominees HERE.

I have already ranked the Best Animated Feature nominees HERE.

I have already ranked the Best Animated Short Film nominees HERE.

So in this post I will rank how I thought the nominees for Best Foreign Language Films stack up.  All the nominees this year are excellent, so I fully recommend that you watch them all if you can.  A couple are a bit difficult to watch because of their sensitive themes and scenes.  This ranking is based on my own enjoyment of each film, and not how I think the Academy will award the winner.


This film is a lavish historical costume drama about how important political reforms were instituted in Denmark as a result of an illicit affair between the Queen and the court physician.  I enjoy movies of this type, especially the history aspect.  The story here was told very well and clearly, holding my interest despite my unfamiliarity with Danish history and the very small screen of the airplane where I watched this.


This film starring international star Gael Garcia Bernal tells us about the ad campaigns for the 1988 referendum held in Chile, asking the voting public whether they would like to further extend the mandate of President Augusto Pinochet.  This film plays almost like a real documentary film as its scenes were shot in a grainy style as would be expected from news footage from the 80s.  If you do not know if YES or NO would win, there is real suspense.


This is a gritty dirty realistic drama set in sub-Saharan Africa in the midst of a bloody civil war.  We follow two traumatic years in the life of 12-year old Komona as she is forced to grow up in a most violently hellish way.  Of all the films, this was the most difficult to watch because of the graphic violence.  But one cannot deny the excellence of the film in general and especially the compelling bold performance of child actress Rachel Mwanza as Komona.

4.  KON TIKI (Norway)

This is a good old-fashioned adventure film based on the published memoirs of Norse adventurer Thor Heyerdahl as he sailed from Peru to Polynesia on a raft made from ancient materials, as he thought aboriginal explorers did before.  I thought the scenes were shot with great cinematography.  However, the obvious lack of dramatic tension makes everything almost too perfect to be believed, but it was certainly not boring.


This film is among the nominees of Best Picture AND Best Director this year!  The lead actress, 86-year old Emmanuelle Riva, is also nominated for Best Actress.  It almost goes without saying that "Amour" by Michael Haneke is the favored film to win the big prize.  The first two-thirds of the movie was an excellent poignant portrayal of how a debilitating stroke devastates the lives of an elderly couple (portrayed with perfection by Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant).  However, the radical climax is not to my liking, thus negatively affecting my overall ranking.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No (Chile, 2012)

February 20, 2013

I only knew about this film from Chile simply entitled "No" because it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Before watching the film I learned that this film would be starring a known international actor, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal (of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" fame). I was more intrigued to make this the first Chilean film I would ever watch.

"No" refers to the vote of "No" in a national referendum held in Chile in 1988 with the question of extending the dictatorial presidency of Augusto Pinoche for another eight years. Hip young advertiser Rene Saavedra (Bernal) was tasked to lead the advertising campaign for the impossible "No" vote. His modern methods meet resistance within the "No" camp. It also put his and his family's safety at risk. Will Saavedra's unorthodox political advertising techniques get the job done?

I found this account of Chile's recent history very educational and interesting. As I also come from a country that lived through and deposed a dictator through a peaceful revolution just a year or so before this event in Chile history, I recognize and identify with the experience and sentiments of the people involved. 

I did not know whether "Yes" or "No" won, so there is very palpable suspense while watching this very realistic film. It felt like a documentary in its faded color palette, gritty camera work, accurate production design, and interweaving of actual news footage. It was also quaint in the cultural sense, as we learn about unique societal attitudes and behavior in Chile, a country I know very little about.

Maybe its chances of winning the Oscar are not too big since it is up against the higher profile "Amour", which is also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. However, I am thankful for its nomination because this history buff has learned a lot from this film.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


February 17, 2013

The trailer pretty much tells us already what "Flight" was all about. An ace pilot saves a crashing plane from a worse fate by a daring yet skillful inversion maneuver. However, as public adulation for his miraculous feat builds up, the pilot had to face investigation for the alcohol and drugs found in his post-flight blood exams. Thus, the question is set up: will he get away with it all or will he own up to his personal demons? That is all that the trailer does not tell us.

I watched "Flight" mainly because of Denzel Washington's Oscar-nominated lead performance as the pilot Capt. Whip Whitaker. He deserves this citation because he was able to convincingly navigate the emotions that are eating up this troubled, tormented and broken man. While we admire him for his piloting skill, we also detest him for his uncontrollable addiction to alcohol, the lies he makes up to cover up for it and the personal relationships he ruined along the way. I do not particularly enjoy watching movies about people who destroy themselves, and this is one of them.

Alcoholism had been a favorite subject for Oscar winners, both for males and females, including Lionel Barrymore ("A Free Soul"), Ray Milland ("The Lost Weekend"), Robert Duvall ("Tender Mercies"), Nicolas Cage ("Leaving Las Vegas"), Vivien Leigh ("A Streetcar Named Desire") and Susan Hayward ("I Want to Live"). Denzel's performance in "Flight" would have been a shoo-in to join that illustrious list of winners in any other year, except that this year he was up against stronger nominees.

I love the multiple meanings of the title "Flight" in the context of the story.  The Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay was a nice bonus for this production. I thought the subplot about another drug addict Nicole (sympathetically played by Kelly Reilly) was not really too important in the main story arc, and just prolonged the running time beyond two hours. It was also good to see Robert Zemeckis back in a live action film (after "Beowulf" and "Polar Express"), but his directorial style seems to be stuck in the 1990s because "Flight" did have a sort-of "dated" TV-movie feel to it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

War Witch (aka Rebelle)

February 16, 2013

I learned about this film "War Witch" because it was nominated for the Oscar in Best Foreign Language Film. It is in French and was submitted by Canada. It is not an easy movie to watch. It chronicles two years in the life of a female child warrior in civil war-torn Africa.

Set in an unspecified African village and country, Komona is a 12 year old girl who was forcibly abducted by rebels to be a child warrior among many other children in her village. She had a unique talent of seeing spirits of the dead, which gave her the distinction of being a "War Witch" and thus a sacred member of their band of rebels. Despite this, she would still live a harrowing life of constant violence and anguish. This would be interrupted by an interlude of love, but sadly it would not last too long. 

We hear the story in Komona's point of view so we can share in her very thoughts through her narrations. Young Rachel Mwanza bravely and compellingly played Komona. We literally see her face age from the first time we see her on screen to her final scene. We see a child forced to mature beyond her years in the most brutal ways possible. As you watch this, you will be thankful you do not lead Komona's tortured existence. 

The direction, screenplay, cinematography and make-up of this film are outstanding. The depiction of the dead spirits Komona sees are very effective in its simplicity. This film succeeds to bring the heretofore unknown hell as experienced by children in war-ravaged Africa into the consciousness of the rest of the world. Are you ready to see this hell?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

February 14, 2013

This turned out to be quite a disappointing Valentine's date movie for us today. My wife and I are fans of this great action movie franchise from its first to the fourth installments. However in my opinion, this fifth one fails to make the standard set by its predecessors. 

"A Good Day to Die Hard" brings Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) from New York City to the mean streets of Moscow. He went there to locate and bring home his supposedly delinquent son, John Jr. However, he was in for a big surprise as his son was actually in Moscow as a CIA agent working on a bizarre complicated case involving Chernobyl and nuclear weapons. Will the estranged father and son be able to reconnect with each other while battling the Russian bad guys?

I know, that story summary sounded corny and it is. Like in previous Die Hard films, I was ready to accept the superhuman abilities of the McClanes in the action scenes. However the plot of this one was really too weak and riddled with holes. The climax made me scratch my head and wonder how that could happen because of its illogical development. 

The action scenes, however, were really out of this world in this one. In the first sequence alone, you cannot count the number of cars that were destroyed as the McClanes and the bad guys wildly plow and rampage through Moscow's heavy traffic. The Mercedes-Benz logo is front and center in many of these car chase scenes. Talk about product placement! There is also one awesome explosive helicopter scene to cap it all off at the end.

The bald Bruce Willis even looks more grizzly than his 57 years, but to his credit, he is as effective an action star as before. He did look a little like he was phoning in the non-action scenes. His usually sharp wit was wanting here as he mouthed his repetitive lines about being on vacation and not getting any respect. The main problem here is the lack of any chemistry between Willis and the actor who played his son, Jai Courtney. This new actor did not have the charisma of Samuel L. Jackson in the third movie, and Justin Long in the fourth.

Sure it was explosive and noisy as the other Die Hard films, but it shows that the story in which these explosions and noise happens still matters. The first Die Hard film all happened within the confines of a single building, yet the action in that one was all the more exciting and riveting than the huge action stunts in this one. This is just OK for me, even a tad on the boring side.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kon Tiki (Norway, 2012)

February 13, 2013

I sought out this Norwegian film only after I learned that this was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. I only had a cursory knowledge of Thor Heyerdahl as a Norwegian explorer who wrote about his adventure at sea. However, I did not know any details at all about him or his journey. So I welcomed this opportunity to finally get to see it.

The film began with Thor as a child when he fell into the icy lake and almost drowned. However we later find out that that accident and his inability to swim did not deter his adventurous spirit. We fast forward to Thor and his wife Liv on Fatu Hiva, a Polynesian island, in 1937. There he learned the belief of the islanders that their ancestor Tiki actually came from the East (the Americas) instead of Asia as commonly assumed. 

For several years, Thor tried to get his theory about Polynesian origins published but was repeatedly rejected. Therefore, he resolved to prove his theory by recreating Tiki's original ocean journey from Peru to Polynesia on a raft made of balsa wood (with strictly no modern materials).

It is just too coincidental that I am watching another ocean adventure just a few days after watching "Life of Pi." Kon-Tiki traveled the Pacific in the opposite direction that Pi did. It had an experienced though spare crew of 5, composed of two sailors, an engineer, an ethnographer and Thor, so it had a distinct advantage over the teenager and a tiger. 

But maybe because I just watched Pi, maybe I expected to see so much more maritime misfortune than I did with Kon-Tiki. However, that sequence with vicious sharks had real heart-stopping suspense. I do have some misgivings about that episode with the whale shark, because it is not really the aggressive creature depicted in the film.

This was a straight-forward adventure film for the family. It may seem old-fashioned to some, nothing too controversial or strange as one can expect from modern European cinema. It was by no means boring, but I admit I felt like it lacked a certain edge while I was watching it. The crew members did not even have any significant conflict among each other and they were trapped on a raft for a hundred days! That may come across as unbelievable in these days of Big Brother and other "reality" TV shows. 

I do hope I can find myself a copy of the 1950 Oscar-winning documentary about the real Thor Heyerdahl, his crew and their 101-day oceanic ordeal. That should be very interesting indeed.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Nominees for Oscar Best Animated Short Film are....

February 11, 2013

Here is how I would rank the five nominees for Best Animated Short Film in this year's Oscar Awards.  How would you rank them?  Who do you think will win the Oscar?

1.  Adam and Dog:  The watercolor-style art work and muted pastel colors used in this piece of animation by Minkyu Lee are very effective to convey the simple and timeless story.  I have to admit those scenes between Adam and Dog can make you tear up a bit.  Very touching execution.

2.  Paperman:  This charming, whimsical and romantic black and white animated short produced by Walt Disney Productions and directed by John Kahrs was shown before their feature-length hit "Wreck-It Ralph."  The unique look was achieved by doing traditional drawing over computer-generated images.

3.  Maggie Simpson and the Longest Daycare:  This four-and-a-half minute traditionally-rendered Simpsons cartoon was rendered in 3D when it was shown in theaters as the pre-show bonus before "Ice Age 4: The Continental Drift."  The art work is as it had been done on TV for the past 25 years, but without the typical witty Simpsons dialogue.  The story is as surprising and evocative as its silent star though.  This is the first Simpsons project to be nominated for an Oscar hence its buzz.

Watch video HERE.

4.  Head Over Heels:  I just watched the latest movie with Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst sci-fi romance "Upside Down" and I wonder if this stop-motion clay animated short film by Timothy Reckart inspired that film.  The familiar story of growing apart after years of marriage is very ingeniously portrayed here.

5.  Fresh Guacamole:  The concept is very original in this very short animated film by PES.  Lasting less than two minutes with crude stop-motion animation showing a person making guacamole from the most unexpected mundane things, this film can be very amusing and fascinating in its imaginative-ness.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Upside Down

February 7, 2013

"Upside Down" is a romantic story with an incredible science fiction setting. The unique scenario was that there is a parallel upside-down world that exists above our world, wherein the forces of gravity are reversed. The male, Adam (Jim Sturgess), comes from the destitute and chaotic lower world. The female, Eden (Kirsten Dunst), comes from the rich and progressive upper world. They meet and fall in love across the great divide, and herein lies our story of forbidden love.

The science fiction aspect is a little iffy since there are scientifically impossible problems with gravity situation as it is explained in this film. Anyway, we did not watch this movie because of its science, did we? Let us just accept this scenario as it is and enjoy it. The imaginative filmmakers took pains to make the computer- generated images depicting the dual worlds very aesthetically appealing and artistically stylized. Even a simple sad scene like a burning house in total darkness with a car driving away was done with so much beauty.

Jim Sturgess was very effective as the romantic male lead with his dorky charm as Adam. Kirsten Dunst however did not seem like the correct choice for Eden. For me, her Eden looked too mature for Jim's Adam. It was only the sweeping breathtaking cinematography around them that enhances their limited chemistry between each other. It was nice to finally see Timothy Spall out of his Pete Pettigrew make-up (in the Harry Potter films) in his featured role as Adam's friend Bob. 

I think this is simply a nice little romantic movie that was tried ts best to imagine and create an original setting. If we simply accept the situation, no matter how unscientific, we will be charmed by the whole story. While this is basically a "chick flick", men will enjoy the comedy and science fiction parts. Recommended for Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


February 6, 2013

"Mama" is the first big horror film release of the year. So as a horror movie fan, I really wanted to watch this. It has the name of Guillermo del Toro, not as director as I first thought, but as a producer, so we expected fantastic visuals. I was pleasantly surprised to see acclaimed actress of the moment, Jessica Chastain there too, looking like I have not seen her before, sporting a short dark Joan Jett-hairstyle. This film really had a lot going for it.

"Mama" is a malevolent female spirit who jealously hounds the couple Annabelle (Jessica Chastain) and Luke (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau) who adopts a couple of young girls who had been found living wildly in an abandoned cabin in the woods. Throughout this movie, in the way of disturbing dreams and jarring apparitions, we join Annabelle try to discover what exactly "Mama" wants that she cannot seem to get. 

First-time feature film director Andrés Muschietti succeeds to create a horror film that was visually stunning as it was emotionally charged. The stylish look may have been influenced by the producer, Guillermo del Toro, who had amazed us before with his make-believe world in "Pan's Labyrinth." The emotional ride in "Mama" was very involving, largely due to the restrained yet effective performance of Jessica Chastain as a single rocker-chick who was suddenly given the unexpected and unwelcome responsibility of being a step-mother to two very disturbed girls.

The one drawback for me was Mama herself, particularly how she looked. I admit I did not really like how she reminded me so much of Sadako (of the "Ring" films) in all its obvious computer-generated glory. However, the camera angles used to show "Mama" and her point of view were quite innovative. There were gaping plot holes when you think the story through and try to give explanations to Mama's illogical behavior. But hey, she is a crazy ghost after all! Just sit back, imbibe the creepy atmosphere and feel the emotion in the story.

The Man with the Iron Fists

February 6, 2013

"The Man with the Iron Fists" is a complicated story set in feudal China, about a gold treasure, the various gangs going after it, a black Blacksmith (rapper RZA of the Wu-Tang Gang) making fantastic blades, a British mercenary (a very corpulent Russell Crowe), a superhuman warrior with a Brass Body (the imposing Fil-Greek wrestler Dave Bautista), and the Madam of their favorite brothel (Lucy Liu). As you watch, it was rather hard to tell who was the lead character at the start since it seemed to be focusing on all of these people equally. Then at the end, you would scratch your head to figure out what one character had to do with another.

As you may have noticed, it was rather hard to write a smooth synopsis.  This was quite a disjointed story line with so many characters with tenuous and unclear connections. However, the elements are there that could have made it a really good film. It was too bad that the project was not handled by better hands. The direction and writing by RZA (his first time, I believe) seemed too haphazard. He seems to be more concerned with pulling off one graphic violent scene after the other, rather than effectively telling a cohesive story. To his credit, his camera angles were all very imaginative though.

It is not as bad as reviews would have you think. It is an ultra- violent martial arts extravaganza as RZA's hero Quentin Tarantino would have done it. This was obviously inspired by the audacity of Tarantino's "Kill Bill" but not done with the latter film's focused storytelling technique. Employing anachronistic rap music during the fight scenes is also a Tarantino style obviously adapted in this film, expected since RZA is foremost a rapper.  Be ready to see body parts being chopped off, bellies being gutted, blood gushing out like fountains, the works! This was not rated R-18 for nothing. If that type of gory violence makes your stomach churn, then do not watch this.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Chinese Zodiac

February 4, 2013

I have not watched a solo Jackie Chan movie for a long while. In "Forbidden Kingdom," he shared the star billing with Jet Li. In "Karate Kid", he even played a supporting role for Jaden Smith! Now comes word that this film "Chinese Zodiac" (or "CZ12" for short) will already be the last action film of this iconic martial arts star. If that statement alone will not convince his fans to catch it, then I do not know what will.

I think a lot of people shared that idea. Today is the first weekend that it is showing in local theaters. We watched this in a movie theater in Chinatown, and that 3 pm showing was totally SOLD OUT. It had been quite some time that I have been in a completely full theater in a showing that is not a premiere. It is truly impressive that the audience was composed of fans of all ages.

"Chinese Zodiac" recounts the exploits of a mercenary of historic relics, JC (Jackie Chan), who is searching for the twelve bronze heads of Chinese Zodiac animals which had been looted from the Summer Palace, in order to put them up for sale in big international auctions. JC leads a team of three who works with him "Mission Impossible" style. 

He shares this adventure as well with two plucky ladies: a French heiress Katherine (who would like to him to find her great-grandfather ship which was lost at sea), and a Chinese activist Coco (who is part of a crusade to have Western powers to return cultural treasures back to the countries from whom these were stolen during colonial times). 

As with all Jackie Chan movies in the past, the main reason people go to watch it is not really the story, but Jackie's unique brand of comedy- action. This film certainly does not disappoint. It is two hours worth of exciting stunts which only Jackie can deliver. The movie opened with a long sequence wherein he was sailing down a mountain road using a body suit with roller blades all over it. The last scenes involved skydiving in order to recover the last animal head before it plummets into a volcano! There were still so many action scenes in between -- involving dogs in a maze, pirates on an island, a rival mercenary on a sofa, henchmen with photography equipment -- all as exhilarating as they were also funny.

Yes, Jackie Chan's age may be showing (he is 58 now), but he definitely still has IT! The outtakes shown over the end credits show that he was still the one doing all those dangerous stunts and demanding physical comedy routines himself. Though he was uncharacteristically playing a rogue character in this film, like all of his past movies, there are still lessons to be learned at the end, both personally as well as patriotically. Cheesy dialogues and corny acting, yes, but above all it is still excellent entertainment for all ages, as can be evidenced by the enthusiastic audience response. Come on in and enjoy Jackie Chan's final action show!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Gangster Squad

February 1, 2013

As you can surmise with their classy-looking poster, this was one very stylish, glossy gangster movie. With such as stellar cast that it had, you are bound to expect a lot out of it. This may be why many people were disappointed by it. The great potential was there, but this movie never really rises to the level of other classic gangster films which obviously influence it.

The film was set in the late 1940s, when gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) ruled the Los Angeles underworld. The chief of police (Nick Nolte) secretly assigns good cop Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to assemble a team of dedicated cops who would combat the Cohen gang vigilante-style. 

When you watch "Gangster Squad," you will notice that it is like a patchwork of scenes "inspired" by its predecessors. Off the bat, you will recognize films like "LA Confidential," "The Untouchables," "Dick Tracy," and "The Dark Knight." This film lies somewhere between the serious intentions of the first two, and the cartoonish nature of the latter two. 

The production design was excellent in re-creating 40s LA with its Hollywood glam and its seedy underbelly. The photography was slick with its bright palette of colors and lighting effects. The camera angles and blocking were purposeful to make the members of the "Gangster Squad" look extra "cool" when they walk away together or shoot guns together.

Instead of taking matters very seriously, the execution of the film by Fleischer was more tongue-in-cheek. The main antagonist, Cohen, was portrayed by Sean Penn in a most exaggeratedly over-the-top manner -- a caricature of a mad and violent mob boss. Penn was made to say the darnedest things like "You know the drill?" and there was an actual drill there, or "Here comes Santy Clause!" in a hotel lobby Christmas shootout, while sounding like the bad guy in "Home Alone".

I did like the members of the Gangster Squad though. Josh Brolin was again the deadly serious cop much like his Tommy Lee Jones persona in MiB3. He does better in scenes with his wife Connie (Mireille Enos). Ryan Gosling also fit the bill as the debonair lover-boy of the squad, as he becomes involved with the requisite beautiful damsel-in-distress Grace (Emma Stone). X-Philes like me welcome the appearance of former "X-Files" cast members Robert Patrick and Giovanni Ribisi in memorable supporting roles as key members of O'Mara's Squad. 

All I can say is, contain your high expectations, and you will enjoy this film. The genuine classic Hollywood atmosphere and the high-octane hand gun, shot gun and machine gun action are all there! It is a shallow, cheesy film so do not expect deep pathos and emotion. It does not take itself too seriously, so you are not expected to as well. Enjoy it as you see it. It won't have any deeper meanings to it.