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March 23, 2010

Review: Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

The original "Boondock Saints," which was released in 1999 to an extremely limited amount of theaters due to the then recent Columbine shootings, can be argued as a cult classic. The film spread through word of mouth, which is how I and many others first discovered it. Becoming immensely popular, the sequel was in the works for years, delayed mainly to legal difficulties since writer/director Troy Duffy did not own the rights to the first film. Now, ten years later, fans were given...well...not exactly what they had hoped for.

"Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" begins eight years after the events of the first installment. The MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) are hiding out with their father (Billy Connolly) on a sheep farm in Ireland. When news reaches them that a priest in their old stomping grounds has been murdered, and that the crime was set up to look like they had done the job, they come out of retirement to get to the bottom of such an act. Back in Boston, the detectives who aided them in the past film are hoping they won't be discovered by the new FBI agent on the case, Eunice Bloom (Julie Benz, "Dexter"), who is also the protege of the late Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Defoe, the only well-known actor in the first film). We find that the Yakavetta crime family has continued thanks to Concezio (Judd Nelson...yeah...he was John Bender in "The Breakfast Club"), who's father was murdered by The Saints at the end of the first film. On their trip back to the States, the brothers meet Romeo, who is the comic relief sidekick, much like Rocco in the first film. The boys go back after the mob, with help from their old friends, and even some support from Agent Bloom, but they find that orders are coming down from a much higher, more ominous source, which turns out to be a demon from their father's past.

Okay, this film had several problems, and any fans who've been anxious to see how the story continues need to know up front that they can't expect the same quality of film they had last time around. In fact, the original "Boondock Saints" almost seems like a freak occurrence when a movie should have been bad but turned out good. "All Saints Day" holds some inside jokes from the first film, but at this point it seems to make fun of itself. The characters appear to aware of who they are and what they are to the audience, and they play off of it too much. The three detectives who aid the brothers are not regular full time actors, and that shows a lot here. It's like they know how anticipated this movie was and how many people would see it, so they decided to over act like nobody's business and come off trying way too hard to be interesting or funny. Julie Benz, I must add, is at points just awful. Her character has moments that mirror her predecessor as the weird FBI agent to the point where it's like watching the same movie again, but it's not really that interesting anymore. Hell, Rocco is in a dream sequence and his acting is better than hers (though that sequence was not necessary and kind of confused me). Clifton Collins Jr., who plays Romeo, is someone you haven't heard of but have probably seen in strong supporting roles, most notably Oscar-winning film "Capote." His character though was never necessary. Did they have to replace Rocco for comic relief? That's the movies biggest problem. It insists on adding funny moments for the sake of comic relief, when the comedy in the first film was so simple it seemed accidental and enjoyable. "All Saints Day" has moments when it can't decide if it wants to be a comedy or an action film.

The film leads well into what will be a third installment, and my hopes are that it fixes the mistakes they made with this one. There were some clever surprises, as well as predictable plot points, that make "Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" enjoyable if you don't expect a lot out of it. Don't view it as the highly anticipated sequel, but rather pretend it was made all along and you just didn't get around to seeing it. As soon as you finish it though, put on the original and remember why you love these characters. Who knows, maybe the original "Boondock Saints" was just the luck of the Irish, and that luck has run out. Let's hope that's not the case for the next try.

"There's two kinds of people in this world when you boil it all down. You got your talkers and you got your doers."


March 22, 2010

Review: Up in the Air

Note: I know I've begun to review movies that aren't that new, but they're ones recently released on DVD so you can buy or rent or check out online or whatever. Money and time keep me from seeing every movie I'd like to in theaters.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn, "Up in the Air" is a story of Ryan Bingham, whose job is to fly around the country firing people. To be more clear, when a company is conducting a large amount of layoffs, they bring in Ryan, or someone from his company, to do the dirty work. This could be because it is too hard of a process for some managers to deal with, or because Ryan Bingham (played by Oscar-winner George Clooney) and others like him are just so damn good at it. Ryan, much like the character of Will in "About a Boy" (played by Hugh Grant), is an island. He lives on the road, and as such is a solitary man - and he likes it this way. His business, however, is being changed by technology and new faces, when Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick, who can mostly be seen in the "Twilight" series), an up-and-coming at his company, develops a way to fire people over video conference. This new method is more efficient, but Ryan feels it is very impersonal. He is instructed to take Natalie out on the road and show her what it is really like to fire someone.

The other part of Ryan's story revolves around Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent flyer (quite the understatement for both of them). The two are impressed with each others' travel stats and realize quickly that they are more or less the same person. Ryan meets up with Alex here and there on his trips and for the first time in his life, he begins to see himself wanting more - perhaps a serious relationship or a family of his own. As he begins to see more to life, Natalie learns the real difficulty of their business and tries to feel comfortable with the decisions she's made. What she really tries to figure out is how Ryan can live the life he does, and she questions his entire philosophy. Ryan states in the film that in the past year he had been on the road over 300 days, telling the audience, though not realizing himself, just what kind of life he lives - a lonely one.

Nominated for six Oscars, including a Best Actor nod for Clooney, and Best Supporting Actress ones for Kendrick and Farmiga (who played the love interest of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in 2007 Best Picture winning "The Departed"), the film hits at a time when much of America is experiencing economic issues. Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You For Smoking," and "Juno," not to mention son of famous director Ivan Reitman) says he planned to do this film adaptation as his first major release, but held off. Lucky for him, it fits in perfectly with today's America. The scenes of people being let go and speaking their minds to the camera were regular people recently let go from their jobs, given the opportunity to say what they wanted to say. I feel this movie deserved its Best Picture nomination, but rightfully so it did not win. It ends in a way that can be seen as realistic, while also feels a bit upsetting for the audience. You want Ryan Bingham to be a changed man and for everything to work out, but much like the so many let go from their jobs, not everything works out the way you think it will. There's a hopefulness to it all, however, and the idea of new beginnings is present. Like I said, not the greatest movie of the year, but definitely something to consider.

"If you think about it, your favorite memories, the most important moments in your life... were you alone?"


March 16, 2010

Review: Taking Woodstock

Director Ang Lee, who brought us 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," nominated for eight Oscars and winner of three (including Best Director), crafts this behind-the-scenes story of the largest music festival in history. Adapted from the book by Elliot Tiber, "Taking Woodstock" follows Tiber himself, the son of motel owners in the New York state farmlands, who helped find a home for Woodstock in the summer of 1969.

Elliot Tiber, portrayed by comedian Demetri Martin, was looking for ways to keep his parents motel afloat for yet another summer season when he read about Woodstock ventures and their inability to secure a location with enough space for the event with tickets already sold and the date quickly approaching. Elliot, a painter as well as a homosexual, was ready to join the hippie ways of the 1960s, but couldn't let go of his immigrant parents failing business and their strong need for his support. When the opportunity arose to help them out and save this monumental concert at the same time, he got in touch with the right people and used his power of President of the town's Chamber of Commerce and the permit already approved for his family's annual summer music festival (usually much smaller in size) to find Woodstock a location. Although, even with a huge field provided by local dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), an unimaginable amount of work and trouble went into the execution of the great festival.

Demetri Martin, who has done little film acting in the past, surprises in his first leading role as the often conflicted and confused Elliott Tiber who sometimes looks lost in the middle of everything swirling around him in the wake of Woodstock. Quirky supporting roles include Eugene Levy (who's work in the American Pie films have earned him his own spot in our generation), Paul Dano ("Little Miss Sunshine," "There Will Be Blood"), Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild," "Milk") and Liev Shreiber ("Defiance," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") as a cross-dressing security force.

Ang Lee used no archive footage of the actual Woodstock festival, but rather found tens of thousands of extras to film the audience scenes. You never see any performers of the festival, which goes along with the story, and all the focus is on the months leading up to Woodstock, including the locals' reactions, national coverage and how the impossible was made possible. The film, which feels a bit lengthy, is slightly less comedic than it claims to be, depending on your sense of humor, but there's a certain level of interest raised on a subject I'm sure few from any generation have questioned. It may be something our parents appreciate, since it all occurred during their time, but with themes surrounding the character of Elliott Tiber that I think twenty-something viewers can identify with.

"Perspective shuts out the universe, it keeps the love out."

March 9, 2010

So How Were My Oscar Predictions?

Full List of Winners

Of the nine categories I made predictions for, I only had two wrong (which were the Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay categories). I also predicted that hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin would kinda suck, and they kinda did...

However, Sacha Baron Cohen was nowhere to be seen, though I read somewhere he was planning a ridiculous appearance and was told he was not allowed. The tribute to late writer/director John Hughes was unexpected, and probably the highlight of this year's ceremony. Seeing stars of his hit 80's comedies, along with a montage of memorable scenes and interviews with Hughes himself really gave him the Oscar attention he never received.

That's pretty much all there is to comment on at this point. Next, I think I'll be taking a look at some highly anticipated films of 2010, as well as possible contenders for next year's Oscars (yeah, sometimes you can tell this early).


March 5, 2010

Oscar Predictions (you knew this was coming)

The Full List of Nominees

To be fair, I haven't seen every movie nominated. I tried, but it's hard. Too much time and money are required to be completely up to speed around Oscar time (plus your local movie theater where you attend college is closed for January and February for renovations...). There's always illegally watching movies online, but that earned my parents' computer a virus and caused me to reformat my hard drive...

Down to business:

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Why: Various members of the Academy (those who vote) will likely want to keep the $700 million grossing "Avatar" from winning. Particularly the actors branch of the Academy, who would prefer a dramatic story of the Iraq war over a sci-fi blockbuster that was 60% CGI. Although "Avatar" took the Golden Globes for Best Picture: Drama and Best Director, I don't see that happening on Oscar night. It's a whole different group of voters with different perspectives on the industry. "Avatar" is a great film, but "The Hurt Locker" is a better one. No other story this year was as captivating and tenuous as this one, except maybe "Precious," but critics and Oscar pundits have said the race is down to "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker," with "Inglourious Basterds" as the only possible outside chance.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Why: If "The Hurt Locker" wins, so will she. It's a pattern the Academy has seemed to follow, and practical reasons. If you made the best movie of the year, you deserve the recognition. Plus, she will be the first woman to ever win this award, opening the doors for female directors everywhere. That's not why she should win, but that's why it should be appreciated.

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
Why: Still haven't seen this, but I really want to. Long time actor and nominee, has never won. Winning the Golden Globe was a good indication, and no one has even mentioned any other actors winning.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Why: Probably her best performance yet, and for someone who's been a star for as long as she has, she's never been nominated before. I don't think this movie was really Oscar material, but then again there were several others in the expanded Best Picture category I think don't belong.
Who Do I Really Wish Would Win: Streep, Sidibe, or Mulligan. I thought they were all better in their films, but they've got some things against them. Streep has the record for Oscar nominations (and wins) and to be honest, her portrayal of Julia Child, though spot on, wasn't enough to earn this award. Sidibe has never acted before, and although she was outstanding, an Oscar is something you usually have to earn over time. Mulligan is also a bit young, and her film, "An Education," which was fantastic, was generally overlooked (have you heard of it?).

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"
Why: Hands down one of the best performances all year. A predominantly German actor, Waltz stole the show in Tarantino's Nazi revenge blockbuster, and it was my earlier opinion that he should have been nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, as he was on screen more than anyone else in that movie (including Brad Pitt).

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Mo'Nique, "Precious"
Why: Again, one of the most memorable of the year. It seems the supporting actors were the easy ones to tell this year. No arguments from anyone, she's got it in the bag.

Best Animated Feature: Up
Why: Duh...

Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Why: I'd say it's between this and "The Hurt Locker," and personally I feel a fictitious re-telling of WWII is more creative the a story about the Iraq war written by a journalist who spent time there. Not trying to underplay the story or the war, but Tarantino's "Basterds" was near perfect in plot and it contained so many subtleties that only he could create.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Why: Everyone seems to be saying it, but I still haven't seen it (I plan to very soon). Jason Reitman is great, and his film probably won't be taking home any other awards this year, so why not?

Other Predictions:
-Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will make some good jokes at each other, and their film "It's Complicated," which was good, but earned no Oscar attention. Eventually they'll get really boring and unfunny, and probably start looking tired (Baldwin will look slightly intoxicated).
-Sacha Baron Cohen will do something dumb.
-"Avatar" will take nearly all of the technical awards, in true James Cameron fashion.
-Mo'Nique will cry during her speech.
-Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino will both act really full of themselves.

That's about it. See you at the Oscars! Sunday night on ABC.


March 3, 2010

Non-Humans Who Should Have Won Oscars

This is simple (and fun). Characters or important elements of movies that should have won Oscars. Enjoy:

Wilson the volleyball from "Cast Away" (2000) - Best Supporting Actor
In Robert Zemeckis' film about a man stuck on an uninhabited island, Tom Hanks (in an Oscar-nominated role) spends four years alone. Well, almost alone. During the beginning of his stay, he goes through some Fed-Ex packages that washed up on shore with him and finds someone's birthday present - a volleyball. After cutting his hand trying to start a fire, he throws the volleyball, and his bloody hand print somewhat resembles a face (after he ads eyes). He then begins to casually converse with it, and names it Wilson (after the company that manufactured it). As the years go on, Wilson becomes a close friend, since he is the only "person" on the island to talk to. As Hanks' character sets sail on a makeshift raft with Wilson, there is a very emotional scene in which they part ways. Very sad...

Paulie the parrot from "Paulie" (1998) - Best Actor
Voiced by Jay Mohr ("Jerry McGuire," "Pay It Forward"), Paulie is a parrot who is talks. No, not like a regular parrot that mimics others. Instead, Paulie holds entire conversations, learns and has feelings and emotions. His journey consists of trying to find the young girl who once owned him before he was given away for getting her into trouble. He makes a lot of good friends along the way, until he is eventually kept at an animal research lab where he meets Misha (Tony Shalhoub ("Monk"), which is where the film begins. Paulie goes through a very long and difficult time trying to find Marie, while keeping an very inspire outlook on his life. He even learns to fly (yeah, at first he can't).

Johnny 5 from "Short Circuit" (1986) - Best Actor
Number 5 is a robot, of many, created for as a military project (and he definitely seems like inspiration for Pixar's Wall-E character). In true 1980's movie fashion, everything was going the way of robots and superior technology. After being electrocuted, Number 5 begins thinking independently and communicating with humans. He also learns about war, and begins to rebel against the very reason he was created. No one from the military seems to believe he feels emotions and they attempt to deprogram him. His famous line "Number 5...ALIVE!" is a very heart-wrenching statement, as he is just pleading for them to believe him. He stars alongside Steve Guttenberg (um...the Police Academy movies?) and Ally Sheedy (the weird girl from "The Breakfast Club"), though they don't appear in the sequel, in which Johnny 5 lives in New York City and is used and manipulated by greedy people...yeah...I've actually watched this stuff...

Gizmo from "Gremlins" (1984) and "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990) - Best Supporting Actor
He's the cute and cuddly mogwai that doesn't turn into a Gremlin. He's the hero. Do I really have to say much else about him. Oh, and believe it or not, he's voiced by Howie Mandel (yup, the host of "Deal or No Deal").

Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors" (1986) - Best Supporting Actor/Actress
"Feed me Seymour!" Rick Moranis' ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," "Ghost Busters") plant, Audrey II, which grows to enormous size and then eventually starts talking and demanding he feed it people, is what carries the show in this Off-Broadway musical adaptation. In a film that contains other comedy greats Steve Martin and Bill Murray, Audrey II really holds his/her/its own (and yeah, it eats people too. Pretty sweet).

I know there are more I just can't think of right now, but we'll stop with five. Five is a good round number. Feel free to make suggestions of others I couldn't think of. You can have a lot of fun with this idea, trust me.

Oscar predictions coming tomorrow. Anyone wanna make bets?

March 2, 2010

Oscar Best Picture Controversy

An NPR interview that sums up the issues

Basically, this year is the first in over 50 that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (those who appoint the Academy Awards, or Oscars) have decided to expand the list of Best Picture nominees from five to 10. Some arguments include the idea that many great films aren't being recognized, which is what many said last year about blockbuster and record-breaking, "The Dark Knight." What it really means, as this interview suggests, is that the more popular movies aren't being nominated, so typical movie-goers aren't watching the Academy Awards broadcast. It really comes down to ratings and money.

It is also argued that CGI and effects-heavy movies are rarely nominated in this category as opposed to artsy independent films, or very actor-oriented films. It's a clash over what is the better platform to judge movies; production or acting?

Here's a quote from Neil Gabler, cultural historian and the guest on that particular NPR interview:

"The Academy has some 6,000 members, and the actors' branch is not quite half of the entire Academy. Actors understandably have a certain amount of animosity towards special-effects driven movies. So, those sorts of movies are likely to be given less consideration than movies that are more actor-oriented. And that's one of the reasons why we've seen the tendencies, in my estimation, in the Oscar nominations. And it's also one reason why they had to enlarge the field."

Members of the Academy are the ones who vote in the Oscars, and we are supposed to trust their opinions as experts in the industry. The new voting system for the expanded Best Picture list is the factor that may drastically affect the outcome of the category.

Basically when voting for Best Picture nominees, instead of choosing you're favorite like it has been in the past (and still is for every other category), they must rate all of the Best Picture nominees from one to 10. This means if a member has not seen a movie, the must still rate it in the list, causing them to most likely rate them last, which hurts that films chances. It also means that two films, likely the top two contenders which are "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker," could take most of the votes (#1 placement) and another film could somehow sneak into the top spot by having the most #2 placements. It's a bit confusing, not only to the audience who is not involved in the voting process, but most likely the members of the Academy as well.

Expect my lengthy posts about my Oscar predictions soon. Watch the Academy Awards this Sunday!

"...the Academy, of course, the industry says, well, it's about merit. Well, it's always been about money. It's always been about drumming up business for the movies."