Guest Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Hello all, today’s review comes courtesy of Andy from the blog Ramblings of A Minnesota Movie Geek. Isn’t that an awesome name or what? Andy is a self-confessed geek in every sense of the word. Need proof? Well, he signs off his email with ‘May the Force Be With You’ 😀 He’s currently consumed by his TV watching, but when he did have time for some movies, he’s kind enough to send me a review to share with all you fine FlixChatter readers, so here you go:

Sherlock squaring off against Moriarty. Now that premise alone sold my ticket. This is Moriarty, ladies and gentlemen, Sherlock’s dark reflection, the one man who is just as clever as him, if not more, always one or more steps ahead of the ‘game’, merciless, brilliant. Any tale that has these two locked in intellectual (and eventual physical) battle should be something extraordinary. Ultimately, A Game of Shadows doesn’t quite reach that. In fact, the movie doesn’t seem entirely concerned with the story at all, which is good news for fans of the Sherlock/Watson banter which is given the classic sequel ‘more more more’ treatment, but is detrimental to the overall quality of the film. I wanted Sherlock vs. Moriarty, a battle of the minds as they constantly try to outsmart the other, and I wanted a real sense of jeopardy to every action – hell, every scene, because that’s what a Moriarty story deserves.

A Game of Shadows has plenty of moments of fun, loads of them. The much loved Sherlock and Watson relationship that was so central, no doubt, in making the first film hugely successful, is greatly expounded upon with delicious results. No exaggeration: Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law’s chemistry and complete bromance rules this movie every second they’re together. And rightfully so. In summary with those two, Sherlock and Watson are handled perfectly here. The filmmakers having their friendship down, but they’re not the ones who make Game of Shadows a movie that I was really, really, really looking forward to. No, that was – in case you couldn’t tell – the sinister mastermind Moriarty, and he arrives in the Hollywood ‘reimagined’ world with mixed results.

Jared Harris as Moriarty was good, he was solid, but he wasn’t great. That’s not to fault Harris, I feel, but instead the script. Harris portrays Moriarty with that cool, calm, restrained demeanor, very much in control of his emotions, his words, all his faculties. Plus Harris just looks like a man who has this wide web of a plot in his noggin’. But the script doesn’t allow Moriarty to come across as anything uber-spectacular (except the final Sherlock/Moriarty confrontation, which is nothing short of extraordinary and one of my favorite scenes of 2011), or rather, a force to be reckoned with. At one point, Moriarty breaches cliché, as he tortures one of our protagonists while singing along with classical opera. It’s not creepy or unnerving as the filmmakers may have intended, unfortunately. With the right script, Jared Harris could make the Moriarty of our generation. But for now, I’ll settle with a really, really good one.

To continue the ‘more, more, more’ vibe of Hollywood sequels, director Guy Ritchie is sadly not immune to that trend. Slow motion is used far too frequently, and not always necessarily. That said, one instance of Ritchie using slow mo to great extent is the Sherlock vs. Moriarty face off before the climax, as the two adversaries size up what action they’re about to take. In the same way Ritchie gives us ‘Sherlock Vision’, where he anticipates his opponents moves and how he’ll respond accordingly, we have Moriarty utilize the same skills against Sherlock, making that final scene a tense one, as they both seem even matched. Ritchie’s style is now a trademark of the franchise, and overall, it works. It’s much of the same as the first one, so all I’ll say is that when the inevitable third one enters production, he tries to change it up a bit, give us something new.

Ultimately, where this movie falters is the screenplay. It’s the source of Moriarty’s lack of badassery, and also the source of making this movie not all that engaging and, dare I say, confusing. By the last two bits, I mean this: Sherlock Holmes stories are first and foremost mysteries. It’s the unraveling of these mysteries that drive Sherlock stories, that make them so damn fun to watch. The BBC series Sherlock understands this, and masterfully delivers equal weight of interesting mysteries and highly enjoyable Holmes/Watson scenes. As for A Game of Shadows, I spent more time wondering what the hell was going on and why the characters were doing what they were doing. The plot, and how Point A connects to Point B and that connects to Point C, it just all seemed lazily pieced together, almost like an afterthought. In the end, the strength of the Sherlock/Watson relationship made the lacking script sufferable. A second viewing of the movie some time ago helped clear a few of the plot-points up, but there was still that feeling of disinterest. Furthermore, the side of me that wanted a battle between Sherlock and Moriarty on a grand scale – well, what the writers came up with, didn’t so much deliver on that expectation.

You might have noticed neither the lovely ladies Noomi Rapace or Rachel McAdams have been mentioned thus far. Thing is, they’re hardly in the movie. One more than the other, but even then, she doesn’t make that much of an impact, sadly enough. This leads in to me saying Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is pretty damn decent entertainment. If what you’re looking for is to have a blast watching Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law banter back and forth and have some spectacular action-y adventures, this film absolutely delivers. If you, like me, wanted a battle royale of the minds between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, then it doesn’t fully deliver the goods. But what we have here is a movie very much in the same spirit as Sherlock Holmes (2009), with high points and low points, and if you even seminally liked that flick, you’re going to enjoy the hell out of this one. See y’all for the third one!

3 out of 5 reels

So have you seen this movie? Please do let us know what you think.

THIS JUST IN: ‘The Avengers’ Full Trailer #2

HAPPY LEAP DAY everybody!! Somehow I knew the studios are going to take advantage of this day to release something BIG. Well, it doesn’t get any bigger this Summer than The Avengers!

So take a look at all the Marvel superheroes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow leaping all over themselves to counter against the evil Asgaard villain Loki and save humanity:

I must say Marvel’s producing yet another pure geekgasm-worthy trailer that REALLY gets me more pumped up to see this in less than 3 months! Yes it does get a bit Transformer-y towards the end, especially that giant snake-like metal thing-y coming out of the skyscraper. What the frak is THAT thing??! Does anyone know if that’s part of Loki’s army? ‘Cause it looks a bit like the Destroyer that Loki sent to earth to kill Thor and his earthly co-horts.

What the-?

Can’t wait to see more banters between the ‘volatile, self obsessed and don’t play well with others’ Tony Stark and everyone else on the team, especially Loki. Oh and I’m also excited to see Clark Gregg getting a bigger part in this flick as Agent Coulson

Oh and have you seen this one? Someone actually made a silent film spoof of The Avengers trailer… and it actually is pretty darn good. I really enjoyed watching all those fun title cards like “Egads. It’s Loki. God of Mischief.” It’s interesting too the fact that Robert Downey Jr. once played the most celebrated silent film star Charlie Chaplin.

Anyway, The Avengers is slated to hit US theaters on May 4. All right, BRING. IT. ON. Joss Whedon!!

Well, what say you folks? Are you ready for this?

Snubbed by the Oscars – a Video Tribute (courtesy of JoBlo)

As is customary with every Oscar season, the word ‘snub’ reaches a massive spike as there are likely more reactions to who got overlooked than those who are actually nominated.

Well, someone by the name of Nick Bosworth over at actually created this video tribute to commemorate the people from various award categories who didn’t get recognized this year. He used a song from the movie Super 8 whose composer Michael Giacchino was also snubbed. Check it out below:

I agree with a lot of their snubbed picks as I’ve mentioned here, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt for 50/50. I also think that Tom Hardy for Warrior, Alan Rickman for the final Harry Potter film both turned in an Oscar-worthy performance. Of couse I also think The Adventures of Tintin should be amongst the Best Animated Feature as I think it’s a better film than Rango.

Anyway, let bygones be bygones I suppose. This is my last Oscar-related post until next year. I’m so done with award season now 🙂

Stay tuned for upcoming reviews of The Thing from Another World & Sherlock Holmes: Games of Shadow. I’ll also have my next movie pitch for Anomalous Material’s Hollywood Fantasy League up sometime Thursday, you can view my casting picks on this post. Oh and The Avengers new trailer is supposed to be up sometime this week, too!

Oscars 2012 – Recap and Reflections

Happy Monday everybody! I was going to try to live blog this year just for the heck of it but I’m just not a fast enough typer, ahah. So I’ll just do a sort of play-by-play like I did with the Golden Globes last year.

I was hoping the ceremony would already start by 6PM CST when I turn my TV on but looks like the red carpet is still on for another hour or so, heh. But that’s ok I suppose, I enjoyed seeing a few of them in their glamorous dresses, I think the all of the cast of The Help look stunning. I LOVE how the short crop of Viola Davis really shows off her lovely face and that shade of green of her dress looks spectacular on her killer figure. I think Jessica Chastain‘s Alexander Mcqueen strapless black gown with heavy gold beading all over is my Best Dress pick of the night.

Ok, that’s about the extent of my red carpet coverage, as I’m really just about the ceremony and see if my Oscar predictions make out. For one I’m quite excited to see Billy Crystal as host, his ninth time! He was already making jokes about his opening number via Twitter before the ceremony started:

The montage of the host in each of the movies nominated has been done before but Billy still made it work, even the Justin Bieber bit about helping him with the young demographic was quite a hoot. Practically everyone at the red carpet expected to see him perform his musical number, and he didn’t disappoint. I think it’s quite fun to watch, he’s still got it and the number’s got an Old Hollywood feel to it, and not only because of the fact that Billy is 63, ahah. I do like him as host, at least he wasn’t trying to hard or sleepwalk his way into the ceremony like last year’s duo.

Here are some of his best quotes:

“So tonight, enjoy yourselves, because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.”

“We’re here at the beautiful Chapter 11 theater.” Ahah, poor Kodak.

“Congratulations to Mr Plummer. The average age of Oscar winners has now jumped to 67.”

• Well I got two of my predictions right in the first 2 awards, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction goes to HUGO which I think is fitting, though I wouldn’t mind the cinematography nod going to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.

• I’m glad The Artist got the award for Best Costume Design as I LOVE all those 1920s costumes, George’s tux and Peppy’s gorgeous dresses all have to be so meticulously crafted with textures to pop in black and white. Check out costume designer Mark Bridges’ interview with CNN on getting the Hollywood Golden Age look right for the film.

• Christian Bale looking so dapper (glad he shaved that unsightly beard from last year!) and using his own delightful accent presenting Best Supporting Actress award for the one I’m rooting for: Octavia Spencer, yay! Even miss Spencer acknowledged Bale’s hotness in her acceptance speech, ahah. But in all seriousness, I’m glad to see another colored person won an acting award. As I mentioned in my prediction post, there’s only been five black actresses who have taken home the statuettes. Now if Viola Davis wins again, that’ll make her the second winner!

• Ben Stiller and Emma Stone presenting… I’ve always loved the effortlessly sweet Emma and she played up being the ‘new girl in town’ beautifully against the ‘jaded movie star’ Ben Stiller who looked like a dwarf next to her, ahah. I like her jab about him being a ridiculous presenter a few years ago dressed as an Avatar character.

• The inherently good-humored Sandra Bullock introduced the best foreign language film in German, after jokingly said that the academy asked her to present the award in Chinese but with a German accent, ahah. I’m not too crazy about her dress but I’ve always liked her.

Hugo just kept on winning, 5 wins by 9:30 PM. I hope by the end The Artist will catch up with the big ones, especially Best Picture.

• WOW, those Cirque du Soleil dance sequence is incredible!! I LOVE the nod to classic films like North by Northwest, Casablanca, etc. with the guys wearing suits, absolutely fantastic. I wouldn’t mind seeing them perform at the Oscars every year!

• Robert Downey Jr. is always up for showing off his inherent swagger… “I’m filming a documentary called ‘The Presenter,'”  It’s always fun to see RDJ being his mischievous self but I gotta admit the banter with Paltrow a la Tony Stark & Pepper Potts felt awkward at times.

Christopher Plummer (who shall always be Captain Von Trapp to me) won Best Supporting Actor for Beginners. I haven’t seen the film yet but no doubt his performance was great and his nomination/win was way overdue anyway. He’s the oldest winner at 82 but he still looks dashing! Best. Speech. Ever. LOVE his cceptance speech opening line…“You’re only 2 years older than me my darling, where have you been all my life?” Oh and that gracious thank you to his wife… “…thank you for rescuing me every day of my life.” Awwwwwwww…

• Ok normally I’m not so into Will Ferrell, let alone that Zack Gawhateveryournameis guy from the Hangover movies, but them presenting Best Song complete with cymbals did get a few laughs from me.  And YES The Artist won for Best Original Score!

• Happy to see both of my Best Screenplay predictions are spot on… The Descendants won Best Adapted Screenplay and Midnight in Paris won for Best Original Screenplay. Congrats Alexander Payne and Woody Allen respectively. I think The Descendants is definitely got amazing dialog in it, mixing pathos and humor which is really quite a feat to pull off.

Chris Rock presented the award for Best Animated Feature and seemed to be a bit nostalgic about his hosting gig. I thought his wisecrack about how making animated feature is the easiest job in the world. And of course you’d expect him to say some racial remark about Hollywood…  “If you’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra.” After the applause he added, “… he can’t play white, now, come on!”  Anyway, Rango wins, and since that’s the only one I’ve seen from the noms, I guess I can’t comment if it deserved it or not. Now if The Adventures of Tintin had been nominated, I’d be rooting for that one.

• I haven’t seen Bridesmaids but I’m sure lots of people are happy to see the whole cast up there presenting. I actually thought they’d make it to Best Picture nomination, but clearly one can’t undermine the power of Mr. Spielberg and Stephen Daldry.

• Woo hoo! Happy to see Michel Hazanavicius took home Best Director award for The Artist… at least the Academy voters got it right in this category! Hopefully this will translate to Best Picture as I still have no clue how a movie could win Best Director and his/her movie isn’t regarded as Best Picture.

• Ok, time to grab the tissue… In Memoriam montage is being played, honoring all the greats who have passed this year… man we lost a lot of people who left way too soon. I teared up seeing Whitney up there… Nice to see Steve Jobs up there as he did give us Pixar and those amazing animated masterpieces. I LOVE Esperanza Spalding’s rendition of the beautiful What a Wonderful World… it’s sweet yet haunting. I’ll put up the clip as soon as I find it but here’s the video if you want to watch it, I can’t embed it in this post.

• Finally, more acting awards. The lovely and now svelte-again-after-just-having-a-baby Natalie Portman presented Best Actor in a Leading Role. Dujardin and his awesome eyebrows is just lovely to watch. Y’know, seeing Gary Oldman’s clip as George Smiley makes me root for him even though I had been pulling for The Artist‘s actor to win… and YES, Jean Dujardin won! Well-deserved I’d say, and hopefully we’ll see more of him and those animated eyebrows in future Hollywood films.

• Well the next award isn’t as thrilling for me as I was REALLY pulling for Viola Davis. Ok it isn’t fair for me to say as Meryl Streep‘s performance in The Iron Lady probably is very deserving, but ah well, I guess congratulations is in order for Miss Streep. No doubt she is an acting legend… I just want someone else to get a shot, like Michelle Williams perhaps? Besides, the chance for someone like Viola to get thisclose to having an Oscar-winning role like this again is obviously much smaller than her white peers. Ah well, seems like the Academy voters are not ready to give a Best Leading Role Oscar to a black actress for the second time around, maybe they figure hey, we already gave one to Octavia for the night, so we’ve met our ‘quota’ 😦

• Now last BIG award of the night… my fingers are crossed for The Artist! And…. they WON!! Woo hoo! Even Uggie got up on the stage with the cast and crew, ahah. I really do think a silent film in this day and age that’s so well-crafted by Michel Hazanavicius and well-acted all around deserved this honor. It’s stylish without being a style over substance which is quite a feat. As I said in my review, it’s an exquisite blend of artistic visual style and engaging storytelling, a truly a magical time at the movies!

I’m glad this is the second year in a row that the movie I’m rooting for Best Picture actually won. Last year I gave this rationale for The King Speech for that honor. So in the end, though the Scorsese’s film seemed to have an early lead, Hugo and The Artist tie with five awards each, I guess it’s a safe move from the voters trying to please everybody.

So how did I do on my predictions? I got 11 right out of the 15 that I made in this post, not too shabby eh? 😀  Check out Never Too Early Movie Predictions post for the full list of winners.

Overall I think the ceremony turned out pretty well, not a whole lot of surprises but what do you expect based on the demographic of the academy, ahah. I did like the ‘Mom-ination‘ segment where they interviewed the mothers of the people nominated.

Favorite moments: The Cirque Du Soleil spectacle, Octavia Spencer & Christopher Plummer’s speeches, the In Memoriam segment and The Artist winning Best Picture.

Worst moments: J Lo & Cameron Diaz presenting (why them of all people??), Milla Jovovich’s weird flirtatious gesture as if she was trying to seduce the camera, and Angelina Jolie’s leg-revealing strut. Perhaps she’s trying to distract people from cringing at her scary super-skinny arms, they look like they’d snap like a twig if you pull her too hard. Someone tweeted that she looked like the corpse bride, ahah. So she’s naturally skinny whatever, but what turned me off is how she seemed to think she’s this incredibly sexy goddess that outshines everyone in the room. Gah, nothing is more repulsive than utter display of self-admiration.

So did you watch the Oscars? What’s your pick of best and worst moments?

Counting Down to Oscar 2012 – Winner Predictions

It’s less than 24 hours until the 84th Academy Awards. But hey as my friend David @ Never Too Early Movie Predictions just posted his predictions on Friday, I suppose it’s not too late until the presenter takes out the card from the Oscar envelope, right?

As I’ve posted in my nominees predictions, I missed the number of Best Picture nominees by one (I thought they’d go with 8 noms) and I thought Bridesmaids got in instead of War Horse. So clearly my predictions has no scientific value whatsoever, it’s just for the fun of it just to see how off base (or not) I’d be 😀 I’ve also talked about my reaction to the nominations in general on this post.

So, will Oscar make history tomorrow night by awarding both the lead and supporting female acting categories to black actresses? So far only five black actresses have taken home the statuettes, and only one of them for a leading role (Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball in 2001 (per Wiki). And will a silent film instead of a ‘talkie’ win Best Picture again in 85 years since Wings took that honor? Well, we’ll find out soon enough would we?

So anyway, below is the list of nominees and the one highlighted in gold is my predicted winners:*

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Help
War Horse
The Tree of Life

Best Actor
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
JC Chandor, Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids

Best Adapted Screenplay
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton, Jim Rash, The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, Moneyball
Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughn, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Animated Feature
A Cat In Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Original Score
The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams

Best Achievement in Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Best Achievement in Costume Design
The Artist
Jane Eyre

Best Achievement in Makeup
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

* I left out a few categories such as editing/sound effects as well as documentaries as I have not seen any of them to have any opinion on those.

Btw, allow me to indulge a bit here by sharing this video of my beloved Gregory Peck’s gracious Oscar acceptance speech for his role in To Kill a Mockingbird. Special thanks to my friend Aurora who tweeted me the link last Friday, bless her heart!

All right, so are you going to watch the telecast tomorrow night? I’m going to see if I have the energy to live blog tomorrow. Stay tuned folks 😀

Double Clooney Reviews: The Ides of March and The Descendants

As part of the LAMB Acting School 101 on George Clooney, I thought I’d review two of his recent films, one of which garnered him an Oscar’s Best Actor nod. Now, the idea of this monthly LAMB event is to highlight a different actor/actress whose performances, for better or worse, have left a mark on the cinematic landscape.

Truth be told, I’m not as enamored with 50-year-old actor as most people. Yes I think he’s dashing but for some reason he’s not the kind of actor whose film I’d go see just because he’s in it. That said, I understand his appeal and he’s played his card right in the business, rising steadily from his days as a TV actor to becoming quite a Hollywood royalty if you will. Plus, the man knows how to pick good films and in the case of The Ides of March, he knows how to make a decent one.

So in honor of his Oscar nomination, here are a double reviews of his two latest films:

The Ides of March

I’m generally not a big fan of political films. Heck I’m not into politics in general, call me cynical but I feel that for the most part, there are just so much unethical stuff going on and it’s just a matter of what people can get away with and how much they’re willing to sacrifice to gain power. This political drama directed by Clooney is full of such back-alley dealings and takes its name from a historical event from the Roman Calendar. It’s a date commonly associated with the death of Julius Caesar, who was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by his most trusted allies and long-time friend Brutus.

There’s a loose connection between that event and what happens in this film, but a theme of betrayal is certainly ripe in the story. To understand the plot, we’ve got to meet the players:  Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney) is campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his campaign is led by a world weary campaign veteran Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his second-hand-man, an idealistic and ambitious 30-year-old Stephen (Ryan Gosling) who’s shrewd at handling the communications with the media. Morris’ biggest rival remains faceless throughout the film but his campaign is run by the cynical and ruthless Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Caught in the center of it all is one of Morris’ 20-year-old intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) who has the hots for Stephen.

Stephen ends up getting himself in two major predicaments involving Molly and Duffy, two separate occasions that both threaten not only his political career but also the career of his big boss, Morris. Loyalties are tested and the game of survival of the fittest are full on, lives are at stake and not just in political sense. This is a movie where there are no real heroes or villains, just a bunch of ruthless people who’s really tough to root for, in my opinion anyway. None of the characters are really sympathetic as they’re only concerned about themselves and how to get ahead. Perhaps the only person whom I despise the least is Paul who at least still strives to play by the book, perhaps too much for his own good.

I don’t think this film tells us anything new or fresh perspective that we don’t otherwise already know about politics. If anything it just reaffirms the ‘dirty politics’ reputation of every political party. Career victory wins over virtue, that seems to be the message, which is hardly surprising. Still I think overall I think it’s a decent film that offers intriguing dialog and a great deal of intellectual suspense. I like the subtlety of Clooney’s direction, he doesn’t show every single thing to the audition but instead scenarios are implied in a clever way, such as when Paul enters the big campaign SUVs with Morris in a back alley, it’s clear that his fate within that campaign is sealed. The face-off between Stephen and Morris in a dark kitchen of a restaurant is also shot in a sinister way that shows their faces in the shadows most of the time.

The performances are top notch and that’s another props from Clooney to draw sharp performances from his cast. Gosling is sleek and confident in this role, but I feel that he has that same cocky aura he displays in those DRIVE trailers and movie posters. Clooney doesn’t have as much screen time here but he certainly makes for a believable Obama-like figure, and seems like he’s likened his character to Obama as his campaign posters are done in the exact same way. To me, the two scene-stealers are the actors playing the campaign managers of both parties, Hoffman and Giamatti. They don’t share a screen together however, but their scenes with Gosling are quite memorable. Evan Rachael Wood proves that she’s one of today’s brightest young stars, she embodies her role with sheer drive and youthful recklessness that plays a key role in the downfall of the political candidate, as well as her own. Marisa Tomey is good but it’s a nothing special as she’s done a similar type of supporting roles in other films I saw recently.

Final thoughts:

I think fans of political films will enjoy this one and those who are already fans of the cast will definitely appreciate them all the more. I appreciate Clooney’s direction and the performances, but the film itself is not entertaining or even compelling enough for me to want to watch again.

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

The Descendants

I went to see this film largely because of Clooney’s casting and the fact that he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. I’ll tell you right off the bat that I think his nomination is well-deserved, and it’s perhaps one of my favorite roles from this actor to date.

The story from writer/director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is centered on the life of Matt King (Clooney), a workaholic attorney living in Hawaii. His life is turned upside down when his wife Elizabeth suddenly fell into a coma following a boating accident that leaves him to care for his two daughters. At the same time, Matt is also at the crossroad involving the decision to sell his family’s 25000-acre land that’s been handed down from his ancestors of Hawaiian royalty and missionaries, hence the film’s title. As the trustee of the estate, Matt torn between his family who want to sell the land and the rest of the island who wants him to preserve it.

The film opens with Clooney narrating the story, it’s done in a matter-of-fact manner refuting the common preconception that people who live in a place like Hawaii is devoid of personal problems. His friends seem to think that life in this tropical paradise must be equally perfect, not lacking anything. “Paradise? Paradise can go f*** itself.” Matt scoffs. That is such a perfect opening as it sets the tone to the whole film and how Matt’s life is definitely far from the pristine look of his surrounding.

Prior to Elizabeth being in a coma, Matt was an absentee father, he’s the ‘back-up parent’ that’s how he describes himself, thus his relations with his daughters is obviously not going to be easy, especially when he takes 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) home from her private school in the last days of her mother’s life. Alex seems like a typical rebellious teenager but when she tells her father a secret involving her mother’s infidelity, it’s clear life hasn’t been easy for her either.

This story could easily be overly sentimental and unbearably glum, but yet Payne somehow manages to inject subtle humor and the way Matt deals with his seemingly endless quandaries is often funny without diminishing the weight of those circumstances. The scene of Matt running to his neighbors’ house in a drab polo shirt, shorts and sandals is shot almost like a comic sequence even though he’s about to question them about his wife’s affair. The same with the scenes when Matt is spying on the man his wife is cheating on and when he pays him a visit. The script and Payne’s direction perfectly capture such complicated and extremely awkward situation with dexterity that makes you go, ‘wow, I sure hope I’d never end up in such predicament.’

Though I haven’t seen Payne’s previous work, I’ve read enough reviews about them that makes me think he like to incorporate all kinds of quirky characters in his films, though not to the degree of Wes Anderson. This film is no exception, Alex’s friend Sid’s stoned-like mannerism provides comic relief, but later we reveal that he too is not exempt from personal tragedy. In fact, the variety of characters in this film is what makes this film so wonderful to watch.

What I like about Clooney in this role is how far it is from his glamorous movie-star persona. In a lot of his films, one could argue that he’s just playing a variation of himself but I can’t say that it’s the case here. I feel that he’s able to epitomize the pathos and the personal hell his character goes through with precision and care. A less capable actor could easily resort to overacting, but fortunately Clooney manages to avoid that and the astute script definitely helps him achieve that. The rest of the performances is good as well, even the small roles by Beau Bridges as one of Matt’s cousins and Judy Greer as the oblivious wife of Elizabeth’s lover. I’m impressed with relative newcomer Shailene Woodley who’s done mostly TV work by this point. It’s touching to see Alex’s emotional growth that helps repairs her relationship with her dad, and that subtle transformation is believable.

The seemingly two separate storyline about Elizabeth’s coma and the sale of his family’s land somehow connect together at the end as Matt finally comes to a unexpected decisionIt’s not entirely unpredictable as we’ve sort of been cajoled to root for the King family to keep the land, but it’s a satisfying ending nonetheless. There’s no fairy tale ending but it’s a heartwarming one that definitely puts a smile in my face as tears run down my cheek.

Final Thoughts:

This neatly-paced drama boasts wonderful performances and carries an inspiring theme about second chances and forgiveness. The message about the importance of family over wealth is also quite strong which is always nice to see in today’s films. On top of that, it also boasts a beautifully-shot scenery of the island of Kauai that lends an authentic flavor to the story instead of becoming a distraction.

4.5 out of 5 reels

Well, have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them and also on Mr. Clooney.

The Oscar Best Picture Project and Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) Review

It’s Oscar Week, so today we’re taking a look at some of the past Best Picture films from each decade from the 20s to the 90s. With some help from my friends, below are a list of reviews they’ve selected from each decade.

• Ruth – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
• Iba @ I Luv Cinema – An American in Paris (1951)

• Paula @ Paula Cinema Club – The Apartment (1960)
• Michael @ It Rains… You Get Wet – The Godfather (1972)
• Ronan @ Filmplicity – Rain Man (1989)
• David @ Never Too Early Movie Predictions – Shakespeare in Love (1998) 

Thanks to Iba, we’ve also got some Honorable Mentions from the 20s and 30s, see below:

1920s (Wings, 1927/8)

There is not much on offer for the span of the decade since the Academy Awards only began in 1927/8. So let’s take a look at that first awards ceremony. The WWI silent epic “Wings” took home the prize for Best Production (Picture). The William Wellman masterpiece, with its groundbreaking footage of in-the-air fighter plane battles is the first and only silent film to receive the Academy’s highest honor (this of course may soon change).

But wait, there is more; another film “Sunrise”, received an award for Best Picture (Unique and Artistic Picture/Artistic Quality of Production). This was the first and only year in which there were two separate categories for best picture. “Sunrise”, directed by F.W. Murnau, was the famed German expressionist’s first Hollywood feature and is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all-time.

There is also symmetry with the Awards and the dawning of a new era in the motion picture industry. This first year of industry wide recognition for excellence in film production coincided with the advent of sound. As such, although Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” was released in 1927, the Academy deemed it ineligible as it was claimed that its revolutionary use of sound gave it an unfair advantage.

Another major snub of this year was the Buster Keaton classic “The General.”

1930s (The Life of Emile Zola, 1937)

It is far too easy to mention the Golden Year of Hollywood, 1939 as one enters a discussion of one year to focus on in the decade. That year is the stuff of legend. It should be noted, however that the excellence in filmmaking goes beyond that one isolated ‘magical’ year. Overall the decade produced a bounty of escapist entertainment for the masses.

So let’s take a look at another year in the decade that produced equally stunning pictures – 1937. The winner of the Best Picture prize was the Warner Brothers’ biopic “The Life of Emile Zola,” starring Paul Muni as the crusading activist involved in the 19th century “Dreyfus Affair” in France. During the heyday of the studio system, Warner Brothers was the studio with the reputation of being the “socially conscious,” “realistic” studio; the win in this category marked the studio’s first win for Best Picture.

Zola beat out a diverse offering of films which included “The Awful Truth”, “Captains Courageous”, “Dead End”, “The Good Earth”, “In Old Chicago”, “Lost Horizon”, “One Hundred Men and a Girl”, “Stage Door”, “A Star is Born.”

Notable snubs from this year included the Garbo tearjerker “Camille”, the screwball comedy “Nothing Sacred” and Disney’s first full-length animated feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Moss Hart, based on the novel by Laura Z. Hobson
Cast: Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, Celeste Holm, Anne Revere

Before I get to my in-depth review, I just want to share some interesting tidbits about this film. From the Gregory Peck’s biography by Gary Fishgall, it’s noted that this film was so controversial in its day that even major Hollywood moguls such as Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer who are Jewish did not want this film to be made, not wishing to ‘rock the boat’ and prefer to deal with the matter quietly. In fact, they pleaded with Darryl Zanuck (who is NOT wish) to abandon the project. Even some of Peck’s fans and his own agent encouraged the actor to refuse the part. This film was also the first time the word “Jew” was used explicitly in a mainstream film. Well, this film not only won Best Picture and Best Director for Elia Kazan, but is also the highest-grossing picture of 1948.

Fifteen years before Peck dealt with blatant racism as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, he tackled the issue of anti-Semitism as a reporter who pretends to be Jewish to cover a story on the controversial topic. The film opens with Phil Green, a widower who just recently moves to New York City, hanging out with his son Tommy (Dean Stockwell) just before his appointment with a magazine publisher for his next assignment. Even for a seasoned writer like Phil, this assignment presents quite a challenge as his boss John Minify wants a fresh new take on the issue of anti-Semitism, not just mere facts-and-figures type of articles that have been written many times before.

After some soul-searching and weeks pounding away tirelessly at his typewriter, a eureka moment hits him that in order to really understand what it means to be Jewish, he must become Jewish himself. The fact that he just moves to NYC and practically nobody knows who he is should make his plan a cinch, and in a way it is, but by no means is it going to be a walk in the park. Inevitably, Phil encounters bigotry and discrimination first hand and discovers that the silent prejudices also exist amongst the people he holds dear.

It really makes me cringe to see the in-your-face bigotry displayed by seemingly ‘nice’ people Phil encounters in the day-to-day. His own doctor actually advises him against contacting a Jewish internist, his son Tommy is being called a ‘dirty Jew,’ and one of the most heart-wrenching scenes takes place at a resort where Phil actually has reservation for. As soon as he reveals he’s a Jew, the manager tells him the place is fully-booked but that he’d be happy to book him a room at another hotel! You can watch that clip on YouTube (starting at minute 6:00), it really makes my blood boil just watching it.

Phil hates anti-semitism with a passion, it makes him sick no matter who commits it, that’s what tells his Jewish secretary who admits that she too sometimes refers to herself as a ‘kike.’ He’s equally vehement with Kathy when she’s reluctant to fight against the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ about not selling her property to the Jewish people. He confronts her that the ‘nice’ people who choose to remain as bystanders are as guilty in fostering any types of discrimination.

“I’ve come to see lots of nice people who aren’t [antisemitic]…people who despise it and protest their own innocence help it along and wonder why it grows.”

This clip shows his interaction with both Tommy and Kathy, and also his army best friend Dave (John Garfield) telling Phil about what his and his family’s day-to-day life is like being a real Jew. Garfield himself is a Russian-Jewish immigrant who had to change his original name from Jacob Garfinkle, so he certainly could identify with his character very well here.

I’d like to think (hope) that we’ve come a long way since then but it doesn’t mean that this film is passé nowadays as we know that many forms of prejudices still exist, even if they may not be as blatant as it once was. The fact that this film also tackles the more ‘silent’ discrimination makes it all the more relevant and relatable.

Now, even though the subject matter is pretty heavy handed, at the heart of this human drama is a budding romance between Phil and Minify’s niece Kathy. The relationships between Phil and his mother and son, as well as his best friend Dave are also handled very well, which give you insights into his character. Perhaps Phil is a bit too solemn for his own good, even he admits that himself several times every time he gets into an argument with Kathy. I kind of think of Phil Green as Superman without a cape in some ways… fighting for truth, justice and the American way. Plus Peck has that Clark-Kent sensibilities about him 😀

Now, another thing I like about this film is the character of Anne, the Fashion Editor, played wonderfully by Celeste Holm. She won a Best Supporting Oscar for her role as a sharp, spunky and strong career woman who shares his worldview and empathizes with Phil’s plight. I was quite taken aback in their scenes together towards the end as she makes it quite obvious how she feels about him. It’s quite modern in those days I’d imagine for her to do what she did. I actually kind of wish Phil would end up with her instead of with the more conventional Kathy.

Now the performances are just superb throughout. Peck deservedly earned his third Best Actor nomination in four years. I’ve always considered that Atticus Finch is where the actor and the role meets, I think the same could be said about Phil Green as I can’t imagine a more perfect match between the actor and the role. Peck shares a wonderful yet effortless chemistry with all the actors, but I especially love his scenes with his 11-year-old son. There’s an earlier scene where Tommy grilled his father about what anti-semitism is and why people treat the Jews differently, it’s certainly something every parent can relate to having to explain such a tricky subject. This is apparently the second time Dean Stockwell played Peck’s son, the first one is in The Valley of Decision which was his debut. The scene where Phil comforted Tommy after he’s been bullied at school reminds me of Atticus with Scout. As a father of young boys himself, Peck was such a natural as a dad and it made me wish I had such a loving dad like that!

John Garfield, Ann Revere and Dorothy Maguire are all equally convincing in their roles, Maguire perhaps has the least sympathetic role as the confused and weak Kathy but she sort of represents a lot of the ‘nice’ people in the real world who’d rather not speak up against bigotry because we’re afraid to stir things up. Thanks to director Elia Kazan for bringing out the best out of his actors, he’s known for being an actor’s director as many actors flourish under his directions. This is perhaps not his most famous film compared to A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront (which earned Marlon Brando his Best Actor Oscar) and East of Eden. Kazan won a total of three Oscars, five Tony Awards and four Golden Globes throughout his career but he’s also famous for his controversy for being an informer during the McCarthy era’s anti-communist movement.

Writer Moss Hart, Gregory Peck, Elia Kazan and producer Darryl F. Zanuck

The excellent script by Moss Hart, gorgeous cinematography by Arthur C. Miller and music by the celebrated composer Alfred Newman all make up for an astounding film that definitely merits its place amongst the best of Hollywood’s golden years. I love that many parts of the film was shot in on location in NYC around Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Plaza, it’s nice to see the characters walking amongst the crowd of New Yorkers and getting a glimpse of what the office of a major publication looked like.

I’ve seen this film three times just in the past six months and appreciate it even more each time. It’s a well-crafted and well-acted film that entertain as well as enlighten.

Thoughts on this film? If you haven’t seen this yet, I’d love to hear your favorite film from the 1940s.