Joe's Movie Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009

What Should And WIll Win At The Oscars

Well, the Oscar nominations were released yesterday. I obviously don't vote for them, but if I DID, here's what I would have voted for, along with what I think probably WILL win (we'll see if I'm any better at predictions this time than I have been in the past). I should add that I very much like many of the films and performances I didn't say "should" win, especially "Slumdog Millionaire", so don't take my not "voting" for them to be negative. And I think it's kind of interesting that after winning a SUPPORTING Actress Golden Globe for "The Reader", Kate Winsley is nominated for an Oscar as LEAD Actress in the very same role.

Incidentally, since it would take so much extra time and the complete nominations list has been published and WILL be published in so many different newspapers and magazines as well as online, I won't be including ALL nominees here, just the "will" and "should" wins.
Should win: Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"
Will win: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: "The Reader"

Should win: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Will win: Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: "Happy Go Lucky"

Should win: Wall.E
Will win: Wall.E

Should win: Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Will win: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: "The Reader"

Should win: Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Will win: Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"

Should win: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Will win: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"

Should win: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Will win: Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: Winslet

Should win: Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Will win: Sean Penn, "Milk" (Though I think it's a real possibility that
Micky Rourke might sneak past him for "The Wrestler")
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: Rourke

Should win: "Frost/Nixon"
Will win: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Nominee in this category I have yet to see: "The Reader"

So, now we'll see...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodbye Clint, Hello Brad

I herewith pledge that whatever it takes, even if I have to review some second-run movies, I WILL have some negative reviews next time. However, for now, two more I liked.
1. "Gran Torino". Clint Eastwood has been saying that for the past several years, he's been seriously plotting his retirement from acting (he would continue to direct), and that he's been looking for the right role and film for his farewell to acting project... and that "Gran Torino" is most likely it. If this is the case, he's gone out on a project that might not be his VERY best but is certainly a strong effort, and that takes several popular Eastwood characters and themes to their logical conclusion.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired and recently widowed Detroit police officer, Korean War veteran, and based on his politically incorrect speach, an apparent racist, who grumbles and gripes as he sees his neighborhood gradually taken over by Asian immigrants (primarily Hmong). But when he confronts a local gang and is met with (and is at first not sure how to deal with) the gratitude of the entire neighborhood, he finds that he has much in common with his neighbors... certainly more so than with his own greedy family. He wants to protect Tau and Sue (the youngest members of the family next door) from the gang, and certainly has the skills to do so, but he's clearly haunted by some specific violent incident in his past, and frightened of the thought of resorting to his old skills again.

Some of that plot summary might sound a bit like "Unforgiven"... which would not be inappropriate, as that was the movie Eastwood made specifically as his final Western, and this film serves a similar function for his "urban" pictures. But as excellent a film as that was, "Gran Torino" in some ways improves on it. Walt Kowalsi is even more clearly emotionally damaged by his violent history than William Munny was, and while Munny was able to overcome his hesitancy to once again resort to violence with comparative ease, for Kowalski it's not so easy... in fact, what he finally resorts to will probably surprise many long time Eastwood fans. The final screen appearance of the man who embodied characters like the Man With No Name and Dirty Harry takes his character into territory they would never have dreamed of, but which makes perfect sense, and has condsiderable emotional resonance.

The cast (many of whom are non-actors recruited from various Hmong communities around the U.S. ... the actors playing Tau and Sue are both from the Twin Cities) are either responding well to Eastwood's direction (he does have a history of getting good performances out of stars who sometimes aren't so good outside of his films) or really are good actors... they're certainly very natural and believable. The film lightens its heavy emotional load with a good deal of humor (at least in the first half), Eastood's direction is as excellent as you might hope for from a two-time Oscar winner, and the score by his son Kyle adds to the intense atmosphere without being too obvious.

At age 78, Eastwood remains one of the very few actors his age who can convincingly play a character you would back off from the second he even looks at you the wrong way, which makes his character's emotional scars all the more effective. And he's one of the very few directors who seems dedicated to constantly improving his craft and going in new directions and styles as he gets older. "Gran Torino" will probably leave most moviegoers thankful that this is only his ACTING finale. Eastwood most likely has some amazing films still ahead of him as a director, and I'm certainly looking forward to what he does next.
2. "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button". The F. Scott Fitzgerald story on which this film is said to be based (unread by me) is a SHORT story... and this film runs a good two hours and 40 minutes, some of which is clearly padding. And at times it bears a slight bit too much resemblance to "Forrest Gump" (also written by this movie's screenwriter, Eric Roth). But while it may have its faults, it's still an impressive achievement overall.

As most of you (around 8 or so of this column's likely 10 or so readers), Benjamin Button is a man who is born (in 1918) prematurely aged, with the looks and physical make-up of a man in his late 80's. His mother dies in childbirth, and his father abandons him on the steps of a local home for the elderly... but as Benjamin grows "older", he becomes more youthful. He's aging in reverse.

The premise seems to me like something that clearly works best in a story concentrating on character... how does Benjamin feel about watching everyone he cares about age as he grows younger, how does this effect his relationships, and so on. Part of what gives this film is 160-minute length is a few too many scenes of Benjamin's Gump-like escapades in such areas as his working on a tugboat sailing around the world, and his brief participation in World War II. And, let's face it, even though most of the characters do acknowledge their awareness of his reverse chronology, it does seem like they ought to be making a bigger deal out of it than they do... how often do they run into people who age backwards? But David Fincher, a director who has given us a series of very atmospheric films that wrap up their audiences in their unique worlds ("Seven", "Zodiac") has done a fine job here of making Banjamin's obviously fantasy world believable enough that you'll believe, and a fine cast, headed by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, are so convincing that most audiences will likely have no problem being swept along. In particular, I've been impressed with how Pitt... who always seemed a bit shallow to me... has been growing as an actor over the past couple of years in films like "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" and "Burn After Reading". He continues that journey in "Benjamin Button".

Audiences who demand only movies that could happen in the real world (such as it is) will probably not connect with "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button", and there's nothing wrong with that. But I personally also enjoy films that take us into a world where we obviously don't live and convince us it's real for a couple of hours. It also helps if said film is well acted and directed. As an end result of this, I was quite entertained by "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button".

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

LEAST Favorites Of 2008

Yes, I actually did see all of these... thankfully, at discount theatres. I regret not having reviewed any of them. Those reviews would probably have been fun to read. I KNOW they would have been fun to write. Darn my limited computer access...


10. Rigetheous Kill
9. 88 Minutes
8. Speed Racer
7. Fool's Gold
6. Step Up 2 The Streets
5. Step Brothers
4. Made Of Honor
3. Mirrors
2. The House Bunny
1. Bangkok Dangerous

If you're wondering whether there are ANY movies that I absolutely will not see even at second-run discount prices on Tuesdays (cheap day)... well, today is Tuesday, and "Beveryly Hills Chihuahua" and "High School Musical 3" are both playing at the Hopkins, my most-often-frequented second run theatre, I haven't seen either of them... but I will NOT be there. Never saw "Love Guru", "Semi-Pro" or a bunch of others, actually. I do apparently have my standards, even if I'm not entirely sure what they are.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Favorites Of 2008

I call it that and not "Best" because I make no claims to "knowing" anything about any subjective qualities that make a movie the definitive "best"... these are just the ones that most impressed ME. And remember that since I see most movies second run, the Art House list is very unrepresentative of the year... there are a WHOLE lot of art house movies I'd probably have loved that I never saw, since most of them never play the second run theatres. These are simply my favorites of what I DID see.

Also, I know the studios like to put out movies they have real Oscar hopes for in a couple of theatres in New York and L.A. in December, and everywhere else in January. I do NOT go along with the notion that these are 2008 releases. If 99 point 9 percent of the country doesn't get to see a movie until 2009, then as far as I'm concerned it's a 2009 release, period. I'm not a member of the Academy (AMPAS)and I'm under no obligation to follow their rules if I think they're stupid. So, for instance, Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" (which I am looking forward to), which opens almost everywhere on January 9th, is a 2009 release by my standards and will be eligible for the commercial list NEXT year.

And once in a great while, a movie will open in Art House type theatres, and later expand into regular commercial multiplexes (for instance, "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire"). In those cases, I count the film on the Art House side. That's why, for instance, you'll see "Under The Same Moon" on my Art House list, in spite of the fact that I saw it at the very commercial second run discount house, the Hopkins (and I'm very grateful that in that one instance, a commercial theatre was willing to show such a film... thank you, Hopkins and your parent company, Mann Theatres, for also screening second runs of such indie and "art" type films as "Sicko" and "Away From Her" (last year), and "The Duchess", "Young At Heart" and "Son Of Rambow" this year.). And to the Riverview (my favorite Twin Cities theatre), where I was able to see second runs of "The Band's Visit" (Israel) and "The Counterfeiters" (Germany). If only more second run theatres would do the same.


10. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
9. Burn After Reading
8. Australia
7. Iron Man
6. Doubt
5. Seven Pounds
4. Wall.E
3. Changeling
2. The Dark Knight
1. Frost/Nixon


10. Under The Same Moon (Mexico)
9. Strawberry Shortcakes (Japan)
8. The Visitor (USA)
7. Young A Heart (England)
6. The Unknown Woman (Italy)
5. Man On Wire (USA/France)
4. Milk (USA)
3. Let The Right One In (Sweden)
2. Frozen River (USA)
1. Slumdog Millionaire (England/India)