Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

January 13, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

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I love Ben Stiller’s best work, but his resume has been a little mixed in recent years. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a loose modern adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, is very much a Ben Stiller project (he directs, produces and stars), and it’s definitely some of his best work.

Stiller plays the titular character, a negative assets manager who manages photographs for Life magazine. He’s a meek and mild mannered introvert, a bit of a loner, someone who escapes the banality and drudgery of his existence by “zoning out” into one of his elaborate and vivid daydreams. Without giving too much away, Walter finds himself on an adventure which requires him to track down legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (wonderfully performed by Sean Penn) through a series of clues. Helping him out is his secret crush (Kristin Wiig), whom Walter has joined an online dating service for despite working together in the same office.

As his journey gets crazier and crazier, Walter’s fantasies diminish in frequency, and the film’s simple message become apparent. But getting to that point is a lot of fun because you never really know what to expect next, and Walter is such a likable character that he infuses the film with plenty of warmth (despite the freezing conditions) and heart.

Walter Mitty is a grand adventure, a big, epic physical and spiritual journey that takes Walter to several isolated and extremely beautiful places around the world. The film is filled with amazing special effects, not only during Walter’s fantasies but also throughout his travels. Conversely, it’s also an odd, quirky little film that is only loosely attached to reality, with plenty of serendipitous occurrences and strange coincidences, and a slightly surreal feel that brings up memories of The Truman Show (incidentally, they originally wanted Jim Carrey for the lead role).

The result is an ambitious film doesn’t always work, but enough of it worked for me to make Walter Mitty a special experience. And make no mistake, the film is very funny. There are moments of comic brilliance scattered throughout the 114-minute running time, with a few generating some real belly laughs, though arguably it could have been a more consistently hilarious movie had they focused more on the comedy rather than the poignancy of the drama.

The performances are really strong. Ben Stiller plays the kind of character we’re used to from him (by that I mean closer to There’s Something About Mary than Dodgeball or Tropic Thunder), and he’s very affable here, while Kristen Wiig provides an attractive love interest who is believable because she’s borderline in Walter’s league. A bearded Adam Scott is also very good as the office dickhead, and he seems to relish the opportunity to play such a role. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn have small but important roles as Walter’s mother and daughter, while Sean Penn is brilliant as the enigmatic O’Connell. There are some very interesting minor characters, such as an online dating services rep (Patton Oswalt) who strikes up an unusual phone friendship with Walter, and the nutty Greenlandic helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who provides some of the best lines of the movie.

The ending of Walter Mitty was perhaps a little too neat and predictable for my liking, but apart from that I found myself captured by Walter’s imagination and his struggle for a more fulfilling life. The film has received mixed to polarising reviews, and I can understand that because it’s the type of movie where you either get caught up in the adventure and its characters or you don’t. I certainly did, which is why I think it’s one of the most likable and memorable movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Fair Game (2010)

October 27, 2010 in Movie Reviews


Fair Game commences across Australia on 25 November 2010

I’m just going to come out and say it.  Fair Game is one of the best political drama-thriller I’ve seen in a long time.  And no, I’m not talking about the Cindy Crawford, Billy Baldwin classic of 1995.  This Fair Game stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and tells the amazing true story of Valerie Plame, a former CIA operative, and her husband, former US ambassador Joe Wilson.

Admittedly, as a non-American, I knew very little about Plame’s story when I went to the screening, and I made a conscious effort to steer clear of any spoilers.  So I’m going to try and not give anything away here, except to say that Plame worked as a CIA operative and the story is set around the time the US made the decision to invade Iraq based on faulty WMD intelligence. Both Plame and Wilson played roles in that intelligence gathering process.

Directed by Doug Liman (best known for The Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith), Fair Game is carried by its riveting plot and dynamite performances from Watts and Penn, who should both be in the running for Oscar nominations.  It provides a fascinating insight into how the US manipulated the intelligence to skew their decision towards war, and the devastating impact on the lives of those who tried to unveil the truth.

At its heart, Fair Game is about the relationship between husband and wife, and the strain their jobs and beliefs puts on it.  Watts and Penn’s performances more than make up for any deficiencies in the script, bringing Plame and Wilson to life.  This was so important because the film would fall apart if the audience doesn’t care about the characters and what happens to them.

On the other hand, Fair Game is far more than a domestic drama.  There is tension all throughout the 106-minute running time (very suitable length for a movie of this kind) — from Plame’s dangerous operations in the field to even just a seemingly friendly dinner party.  There are no slow bits.

Of course, there are people out there who will already know a great deal about “The Plame Affair”, and have their opinions of the couple.  And if that opinion is negative, then they will probably hate this film, because it does come across as a little self-righteous.  It is, after all, based on books written by Plame and Wilson, so we effectively only get their side of the story.  I also read in the press materials that because of “national security” reasons, the filmmakers had to sidestep certain things and fictionalise certain aspects of the film, such as particular situations or characters by depicting something or someone “similar” as opposed to the real thing.  So yes, the “true story” part needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

But to me, Fair Game is just a great story, fabulously told and wonderfully acted.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Thoughts on the Oscars: Winners, Losers and everything else

February 23, 2009 in Entertainment

oscar1The 81st Academy Awards ceremony finally took place last night.  Here are just some of my thoughts on it.

The Ceremony

It was…surprisingly not that much different to previous years despite all the talk of a toned-down version due to the global financial meltdown (though Hugh Jackman did make a joke about it).  A few subtle differences in the presentation and sets, but most of it still involved ascertaining who was with who and who was wearing who and what; a musical medley and some jokes to kick things off; predictable winners and long, emotional acceptance speeches.  Hollywood pats its back for another year well done.

That being said, I still enjoyed it.  It’s not often that you get to see all the biggest stars in one place, and see them not as their characters but for who they really are.  Sometimes, through their reactions (to winning and losing) and their acceptance speeches, you get to see a side of them you don’t normally see.  I think this year’s was one of the best we’ve had in a while.

The Host

A big reason was the host.  Hugh Jackman did an excellent job.  It sounded like a strange choice at the beginning, but he really showed off his multiple talents, from singing and dancing to joking and hosting.  He seemed reasonably relaxed given the occasion and gave it his all.  However, if you’re used to seeing him as Wolverine, he might look a little awkward doing all these things you’re not used to seeing.  His job was to host and he did that by not being too dominant and leaving most of the attention to the nominees and winners.  He was classy, and that’s important to the Oscars.

The opening number was awesome.  I’m not sure if anyone can ever top the Billy Crystal classics, but Jackman’s might be the closest we’ll ever get.

[NB: Not sure how long this will last before they take it down]

The Highlights

As usual, they had some clips in between.  Most were pretty standard, but they did have clips on genres, such as romance and comedy.  I thought the highlight of the night, apart from Jackman’s number (above), was the comedy clip presented by Pineapple Express, with Seth Rogen and James Franco.  Man, Seth Rogen has lost a lot of weight, probably in preparation for his Green Hornet role.  And James Franco was just sensational.  I really thought he should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor rather instead of Robert Downey Jr for Tropic Thunder.  Check it out soon.

 

[NB: Poor quality and might get taken down soon, but it’s the best I can get]

Apart from that, there was a little song and dance number with Hugh and Beyonce and the leads of High School Musical and Mamma Mia!  Personally it didn’t do much for me but there wasn’t really anything wrong with it.

The Winners and Losers

Despite reading everywhere that there were going to be some ‘surprises’ this year at the Oscars, when it came to predicting the winners, there weren’t many surprises at all, especially in the major categories.  As expected, Slumdog Millionaire absolutely dominated, winning 8 of its 10 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle.  Also expected was the disappointment for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which, despite leading with 13 nominations, came away with just 3 wins.

Below is the total list of winners and how they compared with my predictions (and some thoughts). 

Best Picture

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: A foregone conclusion by the time the last award of the night rolled around.  I don’t think there was one person in the audience that expected anyone else.  This just about completes a sweep of all the major awards for Slumdog Millionaire this year.  Was it deserving?  Probably yes.  Were there better films?  Absolutely.

Best Director

Winner: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

My Pick: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

Thoughts: Another one that was well in the bag even before the ceremony began.  Boyle’s acceptance speech was okay, nothing special.

Best Actor

Winner: Sean Penn (Milk)

My Pick: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Thoughts: I thought based on merit, Penn and Rourke were neck and neck.  But I felt Rourke would take it out because Penn won not that long ago for Mystic River, and he’s the type of actor that will continue to be nominated as long as he’s acting.  Rourke on the other hand, was one of those heart-warming, comeback stories.  His character’s journey was very similar to that of his own.  I thought that may have struck a chord with the voters, but apparently not.  I think Penn won because: (1) he was truly brilliant and deserving; (2) the Academy likes portrayals of real people (especially in the last few years: Ray, Capote, The Last King of Scotland); and (3) Mickey Rourke must have really pissed off a lot of people.  Penn’s acceptance speech was gracious and genuine.  Some have criticised him for the slightly controversial comments about equal rights for homosexuals (eg marriage), but he probably would have been criticised too had he not said it.

Best Actress

Winner: Kate Winslet (The Reader)

My Pick: Kate Winslet (The Reader)

Thoughts: It was Kate’s time, and I was so glad to see her win after so many disappointments.  Some may say she was probably better in Revolutionary Road, but I don’t think she cares.  Congratulations!

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

My Pick: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

Thoughts: Since everyone expected this, it didn’t turn out to be the emotional affair one may have pictured a few months ago around the time the nominations were announced.  The acceptance speech given by Heath’s father and sister was relatively subdued.  Still, a great achievement, and his performance as The Joker will go down in history as one of the greatest.

Best Suporting Actress

Winner: Penelope Cruz (Vicki Cristina Barcelona)

My Pick: Penelope Cruz (Vicki Cristina Barcelona)

Thoughts: This category is usually seen as the most wide open, but as usual, the favourite prevailed.  While I thought she was good in the role, I didn’t feel it was worthy of the win, especially againt the other nominees in the group.  Personally I would have preferred Amy Adams or Taraji P Henson.

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Milk

My Pick: In Bruges

Thoughts: Milk was the favourite but I expected an upset here with In Bruges, which had some early momentum that was quickly lost.  Should have known better than to best against the favourites.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: When one film has the momentum at the Oscars, they tend to sweep all the awards, irrespective of whether it was truly deserving.  In this case I think you could make a strong case for the winner, but I felt it was pretty borderline.  Any of the other nominees would have been worthy winners.

Cinematography

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: Another one that goes with being the most popular film at the Oscars.

Editing

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: I should have gone with the favourite, but I thought maybe the voters had a kittle sympathy for Button because it was sure to be pummeled by Slumdog in all the categories where both films were nominated.  I was wrong.

Art Direction

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: As I said, if Slumdog wasn’t nominated, and Button was, then Button would win.  I was right this time.

Costume Design

Winner: The Duchess

My Pick: The Duchess

Thoughts: The heavy favourite.  The film wasn’t known for much else.

Makeup

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: Well deserved win here.  The makeup was truly amazing.  Also because Slumdog wasn’t nominated, or else it might have been in trouble.

Visual Effects

Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My Pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Thoughts: Definitely a well-deserved win.  The most amazing special effects I’ve seen, probably ever!

Original Score

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: Would have been good to see another winner here, but Slumdog was like a tornado this year, sweeping everything in its path.  I wonder whether the voters really paid attention to the particular category or whether they just went with the flow and voted everything Slumdog.

Original Song

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: With 2 songs compared to WALL-E‘s one, this isn’t a surprise.  It’s the nominations that puzzled me.  I didn’t even know Slumdog had 2 songs, and I’m sure there are loads and loads of songs out there that could and should have been nominated.  I personally thought the theme song in Gran Torino (by Clint Eastwood) was awesome and at least deserved a nomination if not a win.

Sound

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire

My Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Thoughts: Typical.

Sound Editing

Winner: The Dark Knight

My Pick: The Dark Knight

Thoughts: Very gald they got this one right because it was deserving.  And good to see one that Slumdog didn’t bag.

Animated Feature Film

Winner: WALL-E

My Pick: WALL-E

Thoughts: Possibly the most obvious choice of them all except for all of Slumdog’s wins.  Many thought WALL-E was a masterpiece and should have been in the Best Picture category.  I disagree, but it was certainly better than Kung Fu Panda.

Other winners

Best Foreign Language Film: Okuribito (Japan)

Best Feature Documentary: Man On Wire

Best Short Documentary: Smile Pinki

Best Short Animated Film: La Maison en petits cubes

Best Short Live Action Film: Spielzeugland

Thoughts: I did a prediction for these when the nominations were first announced, but they were just guesses because I hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen any of them, so I don’t think it’s entirely fair to make predictions on that basis.  Nevertheless, I managed to get Man On Wire (because I had heard of it) and Spielzeugland (because it sounded cool) correct.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My official predictions (which didn’t include documentaries, short films, foreign film, etc) did pretty well.  I came away with 16 correct guesses out of 19 categories.  If you include the other categories which I pretty much randomly guessed at the start, I got 18 out of 24.  The frightening thing is that it would not have been that hard to guess ALL of them, and I’m sure plenty of people did.  Just shows how predictable everything still is. 

Maybe a change in the voting system wouldn’t be such a bad idea?  It gets a bit boring when we all know who will win and it’s all driven by publicity and promotion rather than purely on merit.  But then again Meryl Streep might win every year and that would make it even more boring.

Predicting Oscars 09: who should win and who will

February 21, 2009 in Entertainment

oscarI’m excited.

The ceremony for the 81st Academy Awards is finally about to take place.  I’ve finally managed to see most of the nominated films for the major catgories that are available to me (see reviews here, here and here).  While I initially predicted the winners and losers when the nominations first came out (here and here), the landscape has changed a little and I feel that now, since I’ve seen most of the films, I can also comment on who deserves to win.

So for tomorrow night, here’s who should win and who will (only categories with films I’ve seen).  If there is an asterick (*) next to a nominee it means I have not seen that film (so my views do not include it).

Best Picture

slumdog-millionaire1Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: All great movies.  Based on my ratings and reviews of the films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader scored the highest marks, but I would give the nod to Button.  I just thought it was such an unusual and memorable film.  Though not quite as good, it had a certain Forrest Gump-feel to it (probably because of the same writer).

Who will win: Slumdog Millionaire has been tipped all along and there won’t be anything standing in its way come Oscar night.  There is a teeny little chance for an improbable upset by Button (which had the most nominations) but I can’t see any of the scandals derailing what should be a glorious night for Slumdog.  Especially now that all the child actors are coming to the ceremony (albeit after the voting).

Best Director

boyleNominees: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) Gus Van Sant (Milk)

Who should win: A very difficult one to pick because I feel they all did terrific jobs in their respective films.  If I had to pick one I’d have to go with Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire was just that little bit more extraordinary than the others, and the way he pieced it all together was absolutely masterful.

Who will win: Danny Boyle.  No doubt about it.

Best Actor

rourkeNominees: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)*, Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Who should win: A coin-toss between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke.  I saw The Wrestler first and thought Rourke was a lock based on his emotional, nuanced performance, not to mention his amazing physical resemblance to a real-life wrestler.  You felt his physical pain in the ring, you felt his emotional pain outside of it.  It was the performance of a lifetime.  But then I saw Milk and Sean Penn’s performance just blew me away.  Yes, he was playing a real-life character, but man did he do it well.  You honestly believed he was the inspirational Harvey Milk.  Too hard for me to choose.

Who will win: Mickey Rourke.  He’s the sentimental favourite and Penn has already got one (for Mystic River).  The only way Rourke can lose is if he really pissed off as many people in the industry as he claims (and judging from his BAFTA acceptance speech I can kind of see how it might be possible).

Best Actress

kate-winslet-golden-globes-2009-best-actressNominees: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River)*, Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (The Reader)

Who should win: Really tough choice.  I think as far as the performance is concerned, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway are all very deserving (Jolie was very good but not quite there).  But based on the difficulty of the roles they had to play I would give Kate Winslet the edge.  Her character was so important to what The Reader was trying to tell and she played each phase of Hanna Schmitz’s life wonderfully.

Who will win: Kate Winslet.  It’s her time.  Streep is consistently this good so she won’t stand out as much, whereas Hathaway is young and she’ll have plenty of chances (plus her role is less sensational).

Best Supporting Actor

ledgerNominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)

Who should win: Heath Ledger.  As terrific as Hoffman was in Doubt and Shannon was in Revolutionary Road, Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight will forever be remembered as one of the great ones.  I still remember when he was first cast as the Joker and plenty of people scoffed at the idea that he could pull it off (even after Brokeback Mountain).  No one is denying that he was the right man for the role now.

Who will win: Heath Ledger.  All the major awards leading up to the Oscars indicate he will win.  I honestly believe he deserves it, even if he were still alive today – the performance was that mesmerizing.  The fact that he’s not around anymore just about locks it in.

Best Supporting Actress

cruzNominees: Amy Adams (Doubt), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Viola Davis (Doubt), Taraji P Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)

Who should win: The ones that stood out for me were Amy Adams and Taraji P Henson.  Marisa Tomei was wonderful in The Wrestler but I liked the other two more.  Viola Davis was barely in Doubt, though she made great use of her limited screen time.  Penelope Cruz was good but I didn’t think the performance was Oscar-worthy – or maybe I just didn’t like the character.

Who will win: Penelope Cruz.  In this case, I think the least deserving will win.  She’s the most well-known of the group and her role was different and explosive.  Plus all the focus has been on her leading up to the Oscars.  I hope she doesn’t win but I think she will.

Best Original Screenplay

in-brugesNominees: Frozen River*, Happy-Go-Lucky*, In Bruges, Milk, WALL-E

Who should win: Having only seen 3 of the 5 nominees, I don’t feel sufficiently equipped to judge this one.  Out of the 3 films I did see, they were all very good, but probably In Bruges stood out as just being somewhat special.

Who will win: In Bruges has taken a lot of the lead-up awards, but WALL-E is also a favourite because it manages to do so much with so little dialogue.  I’m going with In Bruges but won’t be surprised in WALL-E took it out.  Note I originally picked Milk, but that was before I saw most of the films.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: “Adapted” screenplay is thrown around a little loosely because some of the scripts I’m sure barely resemble the original source.  Nevertheless, I thought the adaptation of The Reader was sensational, dealing with the majority of the themes and events perfectly in Bernhard Schlink’s novel.

Who will win: Originally picked Doubt but after seeing the film I felt the adaptation could have been better.  I have a feeling this award will be lumped with the bunch of awards that Slumdog Millionaire will win on the night.

Cinematography

Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: Another tough one.  I’m don’t have any technical specialty so this is based purely on what I thought looked best.  And using that criterion, I thought Changeling was particularly memorable, though Slumdog Millionaire’s eye-opening portrayal of Mumbai was also impressive.

Who will win: Slumdog to bag another one.

Editing

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: Another technical one, but I liked the work in Button, where editing was particularly important.

Who will win: This might be one of those sympathy awards given to Button, which, despite all its nominations, continues to be beaten by Slumdog.  I hope so because I think in this case it deserves the award.

Art Direction

benjamin-button1Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess*, Revoluntionary Road

Who should win: I thought the Art Direction in Changeling was the best, though The Dark Knight was pretty cool too.

Who will win: A category where Slumdog was not nominated?  Chalk this one up to Button because when the two films go head to head, it’s going to lose out most times.

Makeup

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Who should win: No contest – the make-up in Button was just ridiculous.  Sure, Hellboy II was good, but we had seen it all in the first film.

Who will win: Button.  The make-up had to be seen to be believed – especially the old Cate Blanchett.

Visual Effects

buttonNominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man

Who should win: Another no contest in favour of Button.  As goods as the effects were in the two superhero films, the effects in Button were the best I’ve ever seen.  Freakishly amazing.

Who will win: See above.  Button all the way.  It cannot not win.

Costume Design

Nominees: Australia*, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess*, Milk, Revoluntionary Road

Who should win: Only seen 3 of the 5 films, so not qualified.  Though from what I’ve seen of the other 2, The Duchess looked great.

Who will win: The Duchess had won the earlier awards so I look for the trend to continue.

Music (Original Score)

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance*, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E

Who should win: To be honest I can’t really remember much of the music in any of the films – except the Bollywood music in Slumdog.

Who will win: Slumdog, just because it’s the favourite to win.

Music (Original Song)

slumdogNominees: Slumdog Millionaire (twice), WALL-E

Who should win: Slumdog – one of the songs was pretty good.

Who will win: Slumdog – it has a 2 in 3 chance anyway.

Sound

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E

Who should win: The sound in The Dark Knight stood out for me amongst the nominees.  It was probably the Batcycle.

Who will win: Slumdog.

Sound Editing

the-dark-knightNominees: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E, Wanted

Who should win: Now this I remember pretty well, and The Dark Knight was phenomenal.

Who will win: The Dark Knight.  I hope it gets this one – and Slumdog can’t just win them all.

Animated Film

walleNominees: Bolt*, Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E

Who should win: Not a big fan of animated films but WALL-E wasn’t too bad.  Kung Fu Panda was pretty ordinary and Bolt (which I haven’t seen) didn’t look too crash hot either.

Who will win: WALL-E – pretty much a lock. 

Oscars/Golden Globes Film Reviews Part III

February 21, 2009 in Movie Reviews

I’ve done it.  I finally managed to watch all the Oscar/Golden Globe nominated films I could possibly get to before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday!

Here’s the third instalment of my short Flixter film reviews and possibly the best of the lot!  The first instalment can be found here (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, The Reader, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, In Bruges, Pineapple Express, Burn After Reading, Tropic Thunder, Changeling, Mamma Mia, The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda) and the second here (WALL-E and Gran Torino).

Again, ratings are out of 5 stars.

rachel-getting-married1Rachel Getting Married (3.5 stars)

Years of suppressed family emotions explode around a family wedding. Well-written script with some clever dialogue and witty interactions, even though this type of drama would not be everyone’s cup of tea. A remarkable performance by Anne Hathway (I didn’t know she could act this well) and a solid supporting cast. Not all of it worked but enough of it did.

doubt1Doubt (3.5 stars)

Extraordinary performances all round (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman as always, but Amy Adams really stole the show as the doubting nun), but it was an obvious play adaptation with lots and lots of talking. The characters were extremely well defined, though I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain clunkiness in the way things panned out. Not to take away too much from this film because it tackles many of the themes very cleverly through subtle actions and explosive dialogue.  Doubt is indeed an apt title for this film.

milkMilk (4 stars)

True story about the first openly gay public official in America.  Pretty incredible movie and a ridiculously superb performance by Sean Penn. It was entertaining, informative, frightening and enlightening all at the same time. Hard to believe it was only 30 years ago that this happened in our world. I particularly liked the ending where they showed the real life counterparts of the actors.

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road (4 stars)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a movie that explores the essence of life, love, marriage, children, work, dreams, hopes and reality. It is so rare to see such a brutal, honest, emotional portrayal of suburban and married life, no matter what era. Granted, some people won’t get it for one reason or another, but those that do will find a story that will resonate with them for a long time. All performances are outstanding – I know Kate Winslet has gotten all the attention for this role and The Reader, but Leonardo DiCaprio is really her equal in this film, and it’s a shame he didn’t get the same recognition. Michael Shannon was also brilliant and stole every scene he was in.

benjamin-buttonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (4.5 stars)

A strange premise but an ultimately rewarding film. The make up and special effects are the best I’ve ever seen, both the ageing and the de-ageing stuff is just phenomenal. The film works not really as a running narrative but rather as a series of moments, like its tagline. I found it very captivating to go through the journey of life with this bizarre character, through his ups and downs, flaws and all. There are some minor problems and it is a tad too long, plus Brad Pitt wasn’t truly able to capture the nuances of the ageing process (he acted like the way he looked rather than the age he was) – however, I think when it’s all said and done this is one of the more memorable movies in recent years.

*     *     *

NB: Just a few words about my rating and review system.  First and foremost, they are taken directly from Flixter, so are always short.  I don’t like to discuss too much plot in my reviews because I think it ruins a movie.  Which is why (even though I can’t help but watch them) I generally dislike previews because they tend to give away too much by revealing the best bits and almost always contain spoilers.  I also hate long reviews that reveal too much plot (this happens a lot these days in reviews I read) – what’s the point of telling everyone what the entire film is about?  With my ratings, they are out of 5 and are entirely subjective, always decided on the spot based on gut instinct after viewing.  I never re-adjust a rating afterward and I don’t compare them to previous ratings – hence two films can have the same rating but I may think one is better than the other.  Also, I tend to find there is a significant difference between 2.5 stars (below average) and 3 stars (good) and 3.5 stars (pretty good) and 4 stars (excellent), more so than other half-star differences.

Lastly, the only 5 star film reviewed in these 3 posts is The Wrestler, which I think is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  For the Best Picture Oscar nominees, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are tied with 4.5 stars, but I think the latter is the film I prefer.  Though it is a moot point anyway since Slumdog Millionaire is going to win!

 
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