Oscars broadens Best Picture list to 10


Perhaps in attempt to get the early buzz out for next year’s Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just announced they’re adding an extra FIVE flix to the Best Picture list. Or perhaps an attempt to make amends to excluding the immensely popular (and critically-lauded) The Dark Knight from a list of nominees? Apparently it’s been over 60 years since they had 10 nominees (the last year they did was 1943 when Casablanca took home the gold bald dude).  Hmmm, that darn show is already 4+ hours long, perhaps next year we should just have winners’ acceptance speech be done via Twitter? They (or their publicists) are going to do that anyway so why be redundant? Either that or they ought to plan on having an Oscar slumber party within the Shrine Auditorium.

In any case, does this mean more unlikely-but-otherwise-first-rate flix would have a better shot? Something like Star Trek, Avatar, a musical like Nine (with Daniel Day-Lewis singing & dancing), or perhaps the slick comedy The Hangover could end up being short-listed. Oscar’s long been out of touch with the public’s taste anyway, nominating flix nobody actually paid to see (In the Bedroom, The Hours, Capote). Then they wonder why the show’s ratings keeps going down every year? So I see this is a positive move in the right direction.

I’m curious to see what’s the Best Pic nominees next year. Well as long as they don’t nominate Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I mean what’ll be left for the Razzies to nominate then? =) So folks, start your predictions now.

Bale – always the second banana?

I read this article on Yahoo yesterday on why Johnny Depp is the only one on the poster of Public Enemies, but not Bale. The funny thing is, I’ve been wondering about that ever since I saw the first trailer. Sure, Depp is undoubtedly a very bankable star, but Bale just came out of the monstrous hit that was The Dark Knight, so at the very least, shouldn’t the two of them be on the poster??

Speaking of the Batman sequel, it reminds me how everyone was talking about Heath Ledger (even before his death) and raved about his performance as the Joker. It became even more so after Ledger’s death, to the point where I thought the movie might as well be called the Joker. I’m not saying it’s not without merit, Ledger did turn in an incredible performance which deserved all the kudos, but so did Bale. I think his portrayal as the vulnerable, tormented hero was equally powerful, and the success of the film rode a lot on his skillful performance as well.

But the fact of the matter is, the powers that be obviously thinks Bale’s image doesn’t sell. It’s something I can’t put my finger on because I think he deserves to be as bankable as those of his caliber. Y’see, I like Bale not only for his excellent acting but because he generally stays out of the limelight and is a devoted father and family man. He’s also a dedicated actor who doesn’t mind suffering for his art. Not a lot of actors is willing to drop 1/3 of his body weight for a role in a tiny-budget flix, which is exactly what he did for The Machinist (look at his sickeningly skinny frame here). He’s known to play dark, tortured souls and shuns rom-coms or chick flix (more power to him!). Alas, Bale isn’t exactly a ‘likable’ guy, he comes across pretty aloof or even intimidating in interviews, perhaps even too serious for his own good. Then there’s his foul rant at the DP on the Terminator Salvation set which got leaked to the public. He’s since apologized for his inexcusable behavior, but does he come out unscathed? My gut tells me his reputation might not be as resilient as say, Robert Downey Jr.’s (who’s got into more trouble than one could count, yet could still open a flix on account on his name alone).

On most indie/smaller flix however, Bale frequently got top billing: American Psycho, Equillibrium, The Machinist, Rescue Dawn, Harsh Times. And in various supporting roles, he’s often what you’d call a ‘scene stealer,’ even with limited screen time. I.e. in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I sympathized with his Mandras character much more than Nic Cage’s and wished he’d been the lead.

Bale as John Rolfe
Bale as John Rolfe

Same with The New World (the story about Pocahontas), I bought the DVD solely for Bale’s 20-minute performance as John Rolfe, which was more heartfelt and moving than Colin Farrell tried to be in the whole 2-hours-plus.

In any case, here’s a list of major studio flix where he’s relegated to ‘second banana’ status:

The Prestige: Second to Hugh Jackman
3:10 to Yuma: Second to Russell Crowe
Dark Knight: Second to Heath Ledger
Public Enemies: Second to Johnny Depp

Edit: Since this post was published, Bale has signed on to do The Fighter as boxing trainer Dick Ecklund, where he might again play second fiddle to Mark Wahlberg as “Irish” Mickey Ward.

Who knows if this remains a continuing trend, but as long as he only cares about turning a good performance regardless of who’s getting top billing, I’ll continue to watch him.

So, do you agree of my assessment of Mr. Bale? Please chime in below.

Good bye Jacko!

No musical artist captured the attention of the world quite like Michael. His incredible talent is unmatchable, much like his knack for sensationalism. Though not much of a fan myself, I do enjoy his music and his uber imaginative videos. May he finally rest in peace after all he’s been through. We mourn the King of Pop, but surely his music lives on.

Flixchatter’s Must-See Flix for the rest of ’09

The Must-See list in the order of release date:

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Who could resist that pathetic squirrel still on the hunt for his beloved acorn? I couldn’t stop laughing from the moment that thing came on the screen. There’s possible romance for this little guy as well – hilarious mayhem can’t be far behind.

Public Enemies
Depp. Bale. Michael Mann doing what he does best. The trailer looks positively awesome! Based on a true story about a charismatic bank robber set in the Depression era. It’s a wild goose chase to outgun and outwit each other. I’m so there.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
(See my post about it earlier). I’ll see this on account of Bana, and the story promises to be a gut-wrenching drama. I REALLY want to like this one, I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Say what you will about James Cameron but he’s a moviemaking genius. A decade after Titanic, he’s back at the helm in one of the most ambitious projects to date. Set in a distant planet inhabited by a humanoid race, it’s filmed with ‘steroscopic 3D’ which basically means it mixes live-action and CGI more seamlessly. What I’ve heard so far promises this to be an epic thrill-ride. Count me in!

Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. plays the fictional detective with Jude Law as his BFF Watson. Downey is always enjoyable to watch, and the trailer looks like fun. Sure Guy Ritchie’s done some unwatchable stuff in the past, but this very British story looks like something right up his alley.

Honorable Mentions:

(500) Days of Summer
We all know Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a looooong way from his 3rd Rock From the Sun days. IHMO he’s one of the most talented young actors working today. This is an offbeat rom-com in the span of one Summer. The tagline says: “Boy Meets Girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.” I’m hooked.

The Ugly Truth
Now, those who know me probably thinks this SHOULD have been on the main list. GB has great comedic timing and looks like he and Katie Heigl has great chemistry. But this looks an awful lot like Someone Like You (Hugh Jackman + Ashley Judd). So it depends on what the reviews say, but I’m not rushing to see this one on opening nite.

Daniel Day-Lewis in a musical by the director of Chicago? Hmmm, that I gotta see. It boast a great cast who play all the women in the protagonist’s life: Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, to name a few.

Flixchatter Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

Ok now, The Taking of Pelham 123 is yet another remake (clearly Hollywood’s long been out of original ideas!) of a subway train being hijacked. It’s a simple premise really, but director Tony Scott managed to inject enough tension and sharp dialogue to keep audience engaged. This is a story of an ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances, played brilliantly by Denzel Washington. The normally dashing Oscar winner was able to convince us he’s just a regular joe in a not-so-regular day at work. Compared to his debonair and opulent look in American Gangster with his sharply-pressed suit, he’s almost entirely transformed here. Most of the time, his character Walter Garber looks perplexed and frazzled, but yet you still gets a sense he’d get the job done and carry the day in the end.

John Travolta’s role offers a strong contrast as the ultimate baddie. A self-described wronged man, Ryder is hell-bent on revenge against the NYC government, Travolta channeled his role as Castor Troy in Face/Off with his sinister laughs and facial ticks. Just like Troy, he’s not an entirely unsympathetic villain—one can’t help feeling sorry for him as much as we despise what he does.

Instead of filling it with non-stop action sequences, the movie consist a large amount of dialogue between Ryder and Garber, mostly over an intercom. I have no problem with that, in fact it makes the action sequences and car crashes all the more effectively jolting.

The one thing I could do without is the crude language and overly excessive amount of @$$ jokes for my taste, which I don’t think is necessary. IHMO, If they take all the profanities out, I don’t think it’d lessen the impact of the whole situation. Someone else might pick on the migrane-inducing shaky camera movement used throughout. It seems to be the technique du jour ever since the Bourne series came about. Doesn’t bother me though, but I feel that it’s not as highly effective as the way it was done in Bourne where it almost enhances the plotline.

In any case, I think the script is a strong one and it’s truly what’s good about this flix. The  enjoyable repartee lets you in on the character’s own dilemmas and predicaments, making their ‘connection’ believable. You enjoy their banter so much that at one point when Garber’s replaced by an official hostage negotiator (played by John Turturro) — a costly move on the part of the hostages — we want Garber back as much as Ryder does. The two finally face off towards the end, and Travolta quips, ‘You’re taller than I imagined you’d be. And good lookin’ too.’ It’s a funny line delivered in the same manner as when Castor Troy visits ‘himself’ in jail in the form of Nicolas Cage (you have to see Face/Off to know what I mean, hmmm now I want to watch it again myself!)

Besides Turturro, James Gandolfini was another solid supporting cast member. When I saw him I thought, ‘What, Tony Soprano? Wow Ryder picked the wrong mayor to deal with today!’  But Gandolfini revealed  his funny side not much seen by the public, which is too bad because his comic timing is spotless. Coming out of his limo, he said ‘I left my Rudy Giulliani suit at home’ in an apparent jab at the former Republican mayor. I actually saw his funny side in this little-seen musical called Romance & Cigarettes, which strangely enough was directed by  John Turturo! I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2005. It was around 11 AM and the director himself came and introduced the flick. He said “sorry you had to watch a dirty film so early in the morning” or something like that. It was a rather vulgar but hilarious musical where Gandolfini sang and danced along with a terrific cast of Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet (as his prostitute lover!).

Sorry I digress. Overall, Pelham is a pretty good movie. It won’t win an Oscar, nor would it linger in your memory for days to come. It could’ve been better under a more capable hand at the helm, say Michael Mann. Nevertheless, with Washington and Travolta in top form, it’s a pretty entertaining flix worth your 10 bucks.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels

Have you seen this movie? Well what do you think?

Hollywood’s love affair with ‘swords & sandals’ flix

Clash of the Titans Remake – thrusting into theaters March 2010

Perseus ready for battle!
Perseus ready for battle!

I came across a pic of Gladiator-like Perseus wielding his sword the other day, and it piqued my interest. My hubby Ivan’s a big fan of the original movie with Harry Hamlin, which basically tells the classic Greek mythology of the hero Perseus who defeat Medusa to save Andromeda. Surely you’ve seen all kinds of statues of a naked guy holding the severed head of serpent-haired Medusa. Well, that naked dude is Perseus.

The role now belongs to Aussie actor Sam Worthington (most recently stole scenes from Chris Bale as Marcus in Terminator Salvation). Gone is the Hugh Grant-like flop, replaced by a shaved head a’la Gladiator‘s Maximus. Even the costume & shield look curiously similar – I’m guessing MPAA would slap them with  NC-17 rating if the flix were to follow the statue’s costume or lack there-of. In any case, Worthington could be the next Tinseltown’s ‘It Boy’ if he played his cards right, having also been cast in Jim Cameron’s Avatar (his biggest project a decade after Titanic). From what I’ve seen and read so far, he seems to have the same gravitas and intensity as his fellow Aussie Russell Crowe (minus his temperament I hope) and the tall, brawny physique of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas in 300.

I’m a big fan of historical romans/greek tales, but Hollywood’s ripe with as many misses as there hits. Alexander, The Last Legion, and In the Name of a King are all critical duds and box office flops. But apparently they’re not giving up this genre just yet. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Prince of Persia (based on the popular video game) is promised to be a big blockbuster much like Clash of the Titans, both due out in 2010.

Not a big fan of Gyllenhaal myself, I’d put my money on the latter. Consist mostly of European talents: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Danny Houston, Mads Mikkelsen to name a few, it’ll focus more on Perseus personal life more than the original. Not a bad cast indeed! (Geek sidenote – James Bond connection alert: Mikkelsen was the baddie with the bloody eye in Casino Royale and Arterton played Agent Fields who ended up drowned in petroleum in Quantum of Solace). French native Louis Leterrier is directing the project, whom I thought did a good job re-imagining the Hulk with Ed Norton. Let’s hope this one is more in the same breath as Gladiator and less Troy

With that note, here’s a list of my fave swords & sandals flicks:

1. Ben Hur – Charlton Heston’s born to play the Jewish Prince (albeit he didn’t look Jewish in the slightest) and the production is what you’d call an epic proportion. Sure it’s a bit cheesy and slow at times, but the incredible chariot race scene alone is worth sitting for the 3+ hours running-time. The story of overcoming injustice and finally finding forgiveness through Christ still touch me to this day. They don’t make flix like this anymore. 

2. Gladiator – Russell Crowe in his Oscar-worthy role as Maximus is still the one to beat. He’s one bad-@$$ with a heart wronged by the very kingdom he’s sworn to protect.

3. 300 – I put this on the list more for Zach Snyder’s directing than Mr’s Butler’s role as Leonidas (although his 12-pack certainly didn’t hurt). The stylized, hyper-realistic visuals were shot almost entirely on green screen. I personally think the stunning CGI work helps distinguish this flix from the rest of the flock.

I’d have put Troy on the list if it weren’t for Pitt’s and Orlando Bloom’s involvement as Achilles and Paris. Even Eric Bana’s noble Hector and Brian Cox’s terrific portrayal as Agamemnon couldn’t save this movie.

So what do you think? Are you ready to be entertained?!

Return to Me – The beautiful, poignant chickflix nobody’s ever seen!


Return to Me poster

I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon this one years ago, but I sure glad I did. Now I’m not a huge fan of chickflix in general, especially those with the quintessential formula of ‘boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they live happily ever after.’ So it’s sooo refreshing to see one that isn’t quite so cookie-cutter. Being that we just saw this recently on our monthly movie nite, it’s still fresh in my mind.

David Duchovny (of the X-Files fame) plays a Chicago builder named Bob Rueland who’s happily married to a beautiful zoologist Elizabeth (Joely Richardson). The beginning scenes show a contrast between a charmed life of the couple at a benefit party, and a young woman strapped in a hospital bed in dire need for a heart transplant. But Bob’s happiness is cut short when his wife is suddenly killed in a car accident. You can easily guess what’s happening next. The young woman’s loving grandfather Marty (played by Carroll O’Connor with his thick Irish brogue) received a call on his special black phone inside his restaurant. It’s clear the phone is dedicated for when his granddaughter Grace gets a heart transplant (on the wall right above it is her name circled with a heart). Her close friends all wait in the hospital for her as she goes through the surgery, whilst Marty spent the entire night at the chapel praying for her.

Fast forward a year later, Grace (Minnie Driver) survives the operation and is recovering at home. She is shown painting in her garden and helps out waiting tables at the Irish-Italian restaurant owned by her loving grandpa and his Italian business partner, Angelo. A rather odd cuisine combination indeed! At his friend’s urging, Marty finally gives Grace a plane ticket to Rome so she could paint in Piazza Novona (‘where real artists paint’ says Angelo). Grace is ecstatic as she’s never been able to travel all her life due to her condition.

Off she goes to her BFF’s house Megan (don’t we all wish we had a friend like this, played by Bonnie Hunt who also wrote the screenplay). She and Megan’s large family—she’s got 5 kids and obviously overwhelmed by them—goes to the zoo. Grace is still holding on to the thank you letter she plans to send to the organ donor, but Megan says that she needs to move on (‘send it off and move on, honey, I’m sure they have’), and so she finally did. Right after she drops it off the mailbox, she unconsciously rubbed elbows with Bob! She sort of stopped walking, not sure what just hit her, then quipped ‘whatever it was, it didn’t hurt.’ By this time, I was yearning for the two to meet!

Bob’s BFF Charlie’s been wanting to set him up, and after a year of being all alone with his dog, Bob finally agrees to meet him at, you guessed it, O’Reilly’s!! You know the term how a couple ‘meet cute,’ well their first meeting is exactly that without being overly clichéd. Bob immediately says ‘have we met before?’ and when he ditches his annoying blind date, Grace gives her someone else’s to-go order ‘on the house.’

Bob leaves his phone at the restaurant (intentionally perhaps?) and the night he goes back to retrieve it is when they finally have a chance to be alone together. Gracie’s grandpa & friends happily play matchmakers (as they all share a common bond of being widowers). David and Minnie have a great chemistry together and it’s fun watching them being smitten by each other. Even though it’s clear Bob adores her, Grace still hides the fact that she had a heart transplant and is quite insecure about her scar. There’s a cute scene where she thought Bob was going to unbutton her blouse and she slaps him. She then apologizes nervously and in the end gives him a kiss, leaving Bob bemused yet blissful. it’s a genuinely funny yet moving moment!

It’s great to see Bob finds love again and for Grace to love for the first time in her life. Everything seems all rosy until the night Grace is supposed to reveal her ‘secret’ to Bob. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but that incident leads to her decision to go away to Rome. One of the most memorable scenes is when grandpa Marty tells Bob ‘when Gracie meets you, her heart beats truly for the first time …perhaps it’s meant to be with you always’ Awww … have those tissues handy, gals!

Unlike most chick-flix, even though it’s predictable that they’d be together, it still feels fresh and sincere. Given what each of them has gone through, you just root for them to be happy. Bonnie Hunt‘s debut as a director is truly impressive, the film is sprinkled with cute humors and witty dialog. The acting is believable and natural, and the supporting cast (including James Belushi) are all top notch. Minnie Driver, who’s British, also pulls off a decent American accent. I commend Bonnie for injecting faith into the story without being ‘preachy.’ This is also one of those rare romantic stories that blooms without being ‘physical,’ kind of like a Jane Austen pic for modern day. The soundtrack is also a major plus with classic songs by Dean Martin, Sinatra, etc. It adds pizazz and energy throughout the film.

I definitely recommend this to all of you. Go put it on your Netflix queue! =)


Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear what you think!