“The Big Short” does not fall short

The Big Short
D: Adam McKay
S: Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt
RATING:
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It sounds like a tall order: Adam McKay, a frequent Will Ferrell collaborator and the goofball force behind Anchorman, taking on what was once considered the economic equivalent of the Apocalypse. But in case you missed it, he delivers in The Big Short.

Continue reading ““The Big Short” does not fall short”

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“Dangerous” Adaptations and Quick Notes on “Juego de Peligro”

It was in 18th Century France where Pierre Chorderlos de Laclos wrote the epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses. The story revolves around the cunning exploits of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, conniving ex-lovers who resort to seduction and manipulation for cheap thrills. Their unwary targets: the conservative (and married) Madame de Tourvel and chaste Cecile de Volanges, who then falls for her music tutor Chevalier Danceny, a commoner. Written in the form of letters, the book was so popular, even Marie Antoinette was said to have a copy. It gained further traction during the French Revolution for lavishing on the decadence of the elite.

IMAGE CREDIT: The Red List
Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pheiffer in Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988); IMAGE CREDIT: The Red List

Given that history, it’s easy to understand why the book spawned so many adaptations. The most notable of which is Stephen Frears‘ acclaimed 1988 film. Glenn Close (who had already shocked audiences in Fatal Attraction the year before) received her second consecutive Best Actress Oscar nomination for playing the scheming Mertuil. Michelle Pfeiffer, likewise, earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for playing Tourvel. John Malkovich also excelled, although he was arguably miscast as the womanizing Valmont. While then-newcomers Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves played the star-crossed lovers. Continue reading ““Dangerous” Adaptations and Quick Notes on “Juego de Peligro””

Highlights and Lowlights of the 87th Oscars

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At 3 hours and 43 minutes, it was the longest Oscar telecast aired within the last five years. The 2011 ceremony felt longer, but that was only because the Franco and Hathaway were a drag. I’d rather not join the public pillorying of Neil Patrick Harris because I still found him entertaining, even if some of his jokes fell flat. Besides, hosting the Oscars is one of Hollywood’s most thankless, most brutally-scrutinized gigs. It can either showcase the talent, or at the extreme, readily expose the flaws of even the most seasoned entertainers. NPH was a case of both extremes. His strength is being inherently funny; his weakness is not knowing when to stop (That prediction box gag was particularly dragging). Still, he knew how to put up a show.

It’s also a bittersweet surprise that Birdman (my personal favorite) won over Boyhood (the oddsmakers’ pick) for Best Picture. Weeks before the ceremony, the momentum seemingly belonged to Richard Linklater‘s coming-of-age saga – if even by just a tiny margin. Shockingly, Boyhood won only one award, versus Birdman‘s four. My over-analysis: the voters probably got over the fact that Boyhood 12-year production period and started seeing it as just another coming-of-age film. That probably made Alejandro G. Iñárritu‘s achievements feel fresher by comparison, hence the shift. I’m filing this under “sweet upset”.

Here’s the full list of winners (from Oscar’s official site).

And here are my thoughts on the telecast:

Continue reading “Highlights and Lowlights of the 87th Oscars”

Rooney in Peace

Iconic child star and Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney has died at 93, leaving behind a tremendous legacy yet to be matched by any other performer. The diminutive actor was known for his not-so-diminutive body of work, which includes hundreds of films and shorts.

Here’s a clip of his Oscar-nominated turn in Babes in Arms, where he starred with the ill-fated Judy Garland:

Oh, and who remembers this bit from The Simpsons?

Rooney is the second legendary child star to pass away within the last couple of months: Shirley Temple boarded the Good Ship Lollipop towards the Great Beyond last February.

Rest in peace.

My Oscar Wishlist, Part 2: The Big Leagues

Here’s how I think the major awards will play out: frozen_letitgo copy

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest and Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises
Frozen might not necessarily be the best bet here, especially with Miyazaki in the mix, but don’t forget, the most popular nominee usually prevails in this category. And if the victory of the middling Brave last year was any indication, expect Disney to leave the other nominees in the ice. PICK: Frozen 

BEST WRITING – ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American HustleEric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue JasmineWoody Allen
Dallas Buyers ClubCraig Borten and Melisa Wallack
HerSpike Jonze  
NebraskaBob Nelson 
Expect American Hustle to put up a good fight since it’s up for 10 statuettes (same with Gravity). Lest we also forget, Woody Allen almost always triumphs in the writing categories. However, the edge is on Spike Jonze‘s painful and poignant maiden screenplay about a futuristic love affair since it already triumphed in the Golden Globes and Writers’ Guild Awards. PICK: Her 

BEST WRITING – ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips – Billy Ray
Philomena – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
Much as it’s tempting to root for Before Midnight in its sole nomination, the statuette will likely go to John Ridley’s powerful script about an unjustly enslaved man’s quest for freedom.             PICK: 12 Years a Slave 

jared_dallas copyBEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
It’s refreshing to see comedy staples Cooper and Hill getting  their respective second nods for dramatic efforts. It’s also great to see Fassbender get vindicated for his Shame snub. Also, welcome to the party, Barkhad Abdi! However, they are all distant runners-up to Jared Leto‘s magnificent portrayal of an AIDS-stricken transvestite. PICK: Jared Leto 

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska       
Frankly, the odds would’ve still been on J.Law‘s favor if she didn’t already win Best Actress  last year. Lupita Nyong’o, however, brought raw and explosive power into her debut role as an embattled slave. PICK: Lupita Nyong’o

matt_dallas copy BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Look, I badly want Leo to finally first Oscar as much as you do, but anyone who’s seen Dallas Buyers Club will attest to the sheer depth of Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of an AIDS-stricken douche. PICK: Matthew McConaughey 

cate_blue copyBEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
We’ve seen Cate ham it up as an elf and Bob Dylan. She’s even brought home a statuette 10 years ago for her Katharine Hepburn impersonation. But it’s her tour-de-force turn as a modern-day Blanche Dubois that hits home. She deserves this, really. PICK: Cate Blanchett

gravity-alfonso-cuaron-george-clooney-set-imageBEST DIRECTOR
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Pundits are hinting upsets by ScorseseMcQueen, and Russell (2nd nomination in 2 years; 1 nominee in every acting category. Not bad!), but it’s Alfonso Cuaron‘s impeccable vision that has everybody raving. If he wins, he will make history as the first Hispanic director to be honored in this category, and rightfully so. PICK: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity 

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BEST PICTURE
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle might be omnipresent in all four acting categories, and Gravity could very well sweep the technical awards, but Steve McQueen‘s immensely evocative saga about a free man unjustly sold into slavery still stands a hefty chance at pulling a welcome surprise – regardless of how many other trophies it wins. Also, it’s time to give Brad Pitt an Oscar (Albeit as producer). PICK: 12 Years a Slave

My Oscar 2014 Wishlist, Part 1: The Technicals

It’s that time of the year once again. In less than 24 hours, golden naked men will be handed out to esteemed people for their cinematic achievements during the previous year.

I’m talking about the  Academy Awards, of course.

I’m not exactly doing cartwheels over Ellen DeGeneres hosting the ceremony once again. Not yet, at least. Her first stint in 2007 had its bright spots, but her talk show schtick could barely sustain three hours. Then again, it’s a common birth pain most fledgeling Oscar hosts go through. Many fall, few are forgiven. (Franco *Cough*; McFarlane, *Cough, Cough*). Let’s see what she’ll have up her sleeve this second time around.

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I’ve only seen 6 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees as of this writing; scheduling constraints reduced my annual Pre-Awards Marathon into a Perceived Frontrunners Marathon. But, my guess is that it’s a tight race between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, with American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club as the possible usurpers.  Here’s a detailed rundown of how I think (or wish) everything will transpire in the 86th ceremony:

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Happy” – Despicable Me 2 – Pharrell Williams
“Let It Go” – Frozen – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” – Her – Karen Orzolek and Spike Jonze
“Ordinary Love” – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – U2
Much as I’m sentimentally rooting for Karen O, it will probably be a toss-up between the Golden Globe-awarded Ordinary Love and the inescapable (and viral)  Let it Go. The immense popularity of the latter may or may not help. So if it wins, it would probably be by a snowflake.
PICK: Let it Go from Frozen

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Book Thief – John Williams
Gravity – Steven Price
Her – William Butler and Owen Pallett
Philomena – Alexandre Displat
Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
The presence of heavyweights Williams and Displat cannot be discounted, but I have this gnawing feeling the voters will opt for a fresher sound this year. I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire.
PICK: Her

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost – Steve Boedekker and Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips – Olive Tarney
Gravity – Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Brent Burge and Chris Ward
Lone Survivor – Wylie Stateman
The two interchangeable Sound categories will probably be a lock between the two Best Picture nominees in the mix.
PICK: Gravity or Captain Phillips

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Philips – Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro
Gravity – Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson
Inside Llewyn Davis – Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor – Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow
PICK: Gravity or Captain Phillips (See above)

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
American Hustle – Judy Becker
Gravity – Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, and Joane Woollard
The Great Gatsby – Catherin Martin, Beverly Dunn
Her – K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena
12 Years a Slave – Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker
The sets of the nominated period films are as accurate as they can be, but it’s fresh to see a futuristic film that doesn’t go visually overboard. I’m with you here, Barrett and Serdena.
PICK: Her

BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING
Dallas Buyers Club – Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa – Stephen Prouty
The Lone Ranger – Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny
There I was thinking that American Hustle would have a fighting chance in this category. But given this roster, props should go to the transformations of McConaughey and Leto.
PICK: Dallas Buyers Club

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN
American Hustle – Michael Wilkinson
The Grandmaster – William Chang Suk Ping
The Great Gatsby – Catherine Martin
The Invisible Woman – Michael O’Connor
12 Years a Slave – Patricia Norris
While Hustle and Gatsby might pull off a surprise victories in this category, I think Ms. Norris still has the ultimate edge.
PICK: 12 Years a Slave

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Grandmaster – Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis – Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska – Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners – Roger Deakins
Purists may quibble over Gravity being largely shot in CGI (same case as Life of Pi last year). But then again, it took a considerable amount of lighting technique to match the actors with their digitally-added backdrops. Achieving that seamlessness is no easy feat.
PICK: Gravity

BEST FILM EDITING
American Hustle – Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten
Captain Phillips – Christopher Rouse
Dallas Buyers Club – John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa
Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger
12 Years a Slave – Joe Walker
The sleek, fast-paced cuts made me feel like I was watching Goodfellas Lite at certain points but they still succinctly captured the film’s rambunctious spirit.
PICK: American Hustle  

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity – Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds
Iron Man 3 – Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick
The Lone Ranger – Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier
Star Trek Into Darkness – Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossman, Burt Dalton

You know what, just read about how Gravity was filmed. That film is just stunning beyond words.

PICK: Gravity

– TO BE CONTINUED –

This week in fairy tale bastardization: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

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HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS

D: Tommy Wirkola
S: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare

RATING: *

FACT: Fairy tales were meant to be scary, especially the ones by the Brothers Grimm. Most of us know by now that Little Red Riding Hood was about rape, Snow White was about necrophilia, and Cinderella’s stepsisters went as far as severing their toes  to fit into that goddamn slipper. This makes any attempt at a more gruesome reboot a redundant exercise, to say the least.

Norweigan director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) must have missed that memo. In Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, he re-imagined the beloved siblings as badass, leather-wearing vigilantes. You know, because vigilantes from the Middle Ages usually dress like Matrix rejects. Not.

And if you thought that it’s too early for the talented Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers) to experience a career nadir at this point, well, think again. Here, he plays Hansel, now diabetic (From eating too much candy. Get it?!). While one-time Bond girl Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) plays Gretel, now manifesting signs of troll fetish (Don’t ask). It’s been years since they were almost eaten by that gingerbread-dwelling witch; now they want revenge. Little do they know that their latest adversary would hold secrets about their bitter past. Enter Famke Janssen, channeling her villainous stint from X-Men: The Last Stand. Now, bring on the gratuitous blood and gore.

Faithfulness to the original story is the last thing you’ll expect from this obnoxious 3D reboot. The gingerbread house, for instance, is presented here as a mere afterthought. What we get instead are a dull script that boasts a confusing amount of profanity and bloodletting that will put the Saw franchise to shame.

Word of advice: If you’re looking for dark and gruesome, read the Grimms’ original fairy tales instead. Now, those stories were unapologetically and unequivocally macabre. Skip this.

RATING: 1.0 out of 5

“Magic Mike”: Frothy fun, but not much more

Magic Mike
D: Steven Soderbergh
S: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey
RATING
Ratings copy 7

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We all have our problems, that’s for sure. So, a heavily-chiseled hunk who lives in the lap of faux luxury won’t exactly fit everyone’s “embattled hero” prototype. That’s the challenge at hand for director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin in making Magic Mike.

Inspired by Channing Tatum’s brief career as a stripper, this edgy but uneven drama explores the blood, sweat and tears that go with the strip club business. Tatum plays Mike Lane, a wannabe furniture designer by day and a strip dancer by night. Together with his den-mates Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Ken (Matt Bomer), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash), he makes the ladies salivate at will as a regular performer in the Xquisite Dance Club. But they’re not just strippers, mind you. They’re strippers with dreams. They each dream of a life beyond their meager income and the confines of their Tampa hometown. The plot thickens when a 19-year-old slacker, aptly nicknamed The Kid (Alex Pettyfer), joins their posse. Something that would eventually be the latter’s undoing.

Magic Mike starts out fun, with the MTV-style dance sequences providing the necessary visual goods. Tatum effectively balances sensitivity and machismo as the lead beefcake, while McConaughey exudes glorified sleaze as the head of the Xquisite pack. There’s also catharsis to spare when the guys, especially The Kid, hit their downward spirals.

“Debauchery destroys dreams” seems to be the underlying theme here. While that pursuit of depth prevents the film from turning into Striptease-with-men, Magic Mike ultimately suffers from thinly-written supporting characters and sluggish pacing.

Granted that there’s supposedly more to it than cinematic bumping and grinding, its sincere intentions are drowned by all the froth. Carolin’s script barely explores the psyche of the strippers. Instead, it meanders too much on unnecessary dialogue and Mike’s tepid flirtation with The Kid’s sister, Brooke (Bland performance by Cody Horn).

It also doesn’t help that the local release was marred by too many confusing cuts. Apart from the reduced rear exposure, the loose ends of the plot feel even more loose. Eye candy seems to be the only strong suit left for Magic Mike, a film that falters whenever the characters stop gyrating.