Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2008 Academy Award Nominations

Well, the nominees for the 2008 Academy Awards have been announced. First of all, I don't even know if there will be an Oscar ceremony, at least not in the traditional sense, due to the ongoing Writers Guild strike. But nonetheless, the names have been called, so here's my take...

This, to me is a boring year in the Best Picture category. For the past few years, I've tried to make it a point to see the films nominated for the top prize, so if nothing else, I could draw my own conclusions. I seriously doubt that I'll be doing that this year. The only nominated film that I've seen is No Country For Old Men, and if you're a faithful reader of my blog, you'll know exactly how much I hated that movie. I just don't get it, or the love for it. And folks are already awarding the Supporting Actor Oscar to Javier Bardem, talking about how great and chilling his performance was. Yeah, I thought it was solid, but Oscar worthy? No.

I remember being in the theater and seeing the trailer for Atonement - and I remember being nearly bored to death from it. Outside of the slightest professional interest, I have no desire to see this movie whatsoever. I dunno - I'm not a huge period piece/war/sweeping romantic love story kinda guy. Little did I know when I saw that trailer that I'd be seeing it again come awards season...

Then we have Michael Clayton. A couple of friends of mine do a film-related podcast called "What to Think." I haven't checked out all their shows, but the one I did catch talked about this movie when it first came out. Of the two regular hosts, one really liked it while the other was not smitten. He said the movie, in essence, didn't fully flesh out some of the themes and ideas it presented. Their sit-in guest didn't seem to love it either. It sounded boring to me, but I must admit, I love Clooney and I've read a few things about this movie, so I'm willing to check this one out and see how I feel about it myself.

Call me whatever you want, but every time I hear the title There Will Be Blood, I think of the marketing campaign for one of the Saw movies. And I have a feeling I'd enjoy that film more. I don't doubt that Daniel Day-Lewis is extremely talented, but again, this is one of those movies where I saw the trailer and just wasn't moved. I didn't even really grasp what the story is about. To me, it looks like a dude comes to a town, realizes its oil-bearing potential, uses underhanded methods to gain access to the oil while bilking others out of the potential profits, all while having beef with some young religious guy who thinks he's a healer. Serious, that's what I got. Long story short, there may not be blood, but there won't be any chance of me watching it, either.

And now, my personal favorite (to loathe), Juno. I'm quite sick of hearing about this damn movie. You know, the one written by a blogger by way of stripper that's getting all this attention and looks to be this year's Little Miss Sunshine. I know a great deal of my spite is based in jealousy (the first-time screenwriter, Diablo Cody, also got nominated for Best Original Screenplay her first time out. I've been writing scripts for eight years and have gotten no love. And something tells me her stuff's not all that - please excuse the rant), but I get the feeling this is just another one of those "quirky" movies where you have a "precocious" young protagonist who speaks overly-clever "hipster" dialogue while being so much smarter than everyone else, including the don't-have-a-clue adults. It's one of those "cute" movies that do so well at festivals. But you know what? I'm gonna check it out. I want to see if it's worth the hype. Who knows, maybe I'm sleeping on it. If my opinion changes, you'll read it here.

Just a few more quick notes. I was surprised that Ruby Dee was nominated in the Supporting Actress Category. I get the feeling this is one of those "quota" nominations, or one of those "body of work" type deals that the Academy likes to bestow on older actors/actresses they've failed to recognize before. I'm not taking anything away from Ms. Dee's performance; I think the woman is a national treasure. I just didn't think there was enough of her in American Gangster to warrant this particular nomination. But what was there was great. The best compliment that I could give is that I would've loved to see more. But hey, if William Hurt can be nominated for Supporting Actor for A History of Violence when he had less than 10 minutes of screen time, then Ruby Dee can be as well. I was also surprised that Denzel Washington got no love (again, making me think Ms. Dee was a token nomination). Here's a man who turned in two powerhouse performances in the heat of "Oscar consideration season" and came up with nothing. I unfortunately expected The Great Debaters to get overlooked, but I didn't think the Academy would ignore him in American Gangster as well. And of course, there's Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the stellar Talk to Me, which no one talked about (thank God for the NAACP Image Awards)... But I am happy that Johnny Depp received a nomination for Sweeney Todd.

With so much dullness amongst the nominations, I'm not as excited for the Oscars like I want to be. I'll no doubt check out the show, but I hope I can find something interesting on at the same time, in case I need to flip to something to stay awake.

Hit me back with your thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Review - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

I'd been really looking forward to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for some time. Ever since I saw the first pic of Johnny Depp as Todd I was sold. Every time Depp and director Tim Burton join forces, something magical happens. At least, in my estimation. For your consideration: Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, and Ed Wood (the latter two I haven't seen yet, to be honest). Even if you don't share my opinion, you have to admit, when these two hook up, the moviegoer at the very least is going to get something interesting.

This movie is no different. Full of dreary, desaturated tones (there must be, like, 1,000 different shades of gray in this movie), the cinematography is typical Burton, but as always, it underscores the themes of the movie perfectly. And I can't help but love Depp's Todd. Playing a family man barber wrongfully accused of a crime and sent away while his wife and young daughter fall prey to an evil, corrupt judge (Alan Rickman in his slimy best), Depp imbues Todd with a persistent rage borne of forced heartbreak; Todd is tunnel-visioned in his quest for retribution, his means less than gentle. Or legal (but dammit if he doesn't look like he's having fun doing it).

Shortly after meeting hapless meat pie maker Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who's business goes unpatronized less the dozens of roaches crawling about the prep table, and missing his first chance to slay the villainous judge, Todd and Lovett form an insidious pact: he murders victims to satisfy his blood lust, she grinds up the bodies into her meet pies. All goes well until Mrs. Lovett's young helper, Toby (left alone as the result of Sweeney's blade), becomes privy to the true source of the pies' meat, and a misinformed slash of Todd's razor ends in the final loss of someone he already thought was gone. The resulting end is inevitable, yet none less tragic.

In fact, it's that ending that has me on the fence as far as getting the DVD when it comes out. Again, the way the story wraps up is inevitable; Todd is, basically, a good man gone serial killer. But Depp is just so good and enjoyable and downright likable... I just wished something else could've happened, even though the conventions of the story (not to mention the history of the Broadway musical it's based on) say it can't.

I didn't even have a problem with the much-vaunted gore factor, and I can be as big a wuss as they come when it pertains to people getting sliced onscreen. Still, I wouldn't take young kids to see it (like the idiots in front of us did. And they wonder why the world's so messed up).

Bottom line, great story (the plot is simple, yet effective), great visuals and great acting. And the singing wasn't bad, either (though at the beginning the music was too loud to discern what was being said, but the story was still easy to follow). It definitely made for a fun night at the movies. But I must admit...

I'm gonna look twice at my barber the next time he picks up a straight edge.

Review - THE GREAT DEBATERS

My friends and I went to see The Great Debaters on Christmas night. It's getting to be something of a tradition; we hooked up last year to check out Dreamgirls Christmas night. Nevertheless, we were all looking forward to it, especially my friend Anthony, who, as a PROUD alum of Prairie View A&M University, was on the edge of his seat waiting for any mention of his school (Prairie View and Wiley College have history together during the time period the film covers). I'm honored to say we weren't the least bit disappointed.

It's rare that I watch a film and have absolutely no problem with it, but such was the case here. In fact, watching the credits at the end, I couldn't help but think "Denzel needs to direct more." From the beautiful and rich cinematography to the development and nuance each actor brings to his/her role, the movie was amazing - full of integrity, intelligence, and inspiration, with a light seasoning of comedy and even a bit of romance to sweeten the deal.

Every now and then a lucky moviegoer is treated to the experience of watching a star being made on the screen. In The Great Debaters, we get that moment three-fold. Nate Parker tears it up as Henry Lowe, a young man equally adept in the classroom as he is in the streets. He also has a mind for challenging authority when he sees fit; even Melvin Tolson (Washington), his level-headed mentor, isn't off limits. He's joined by Jurnee Smollett as Samantha Booke (with an "E", lol), the first woman ever on Wiley's debate team, and the actor with the most ironic name in the world today, Denzel Whitaker (both Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker are in the movie), as James Farmer, Jr., son of a preacher. Each actor is brilliant in their role, full of depth and poignancy beyond their years. Ms. Smollett has impressed me in the past, both with her turns in Eve's Bayou (if you haven't seen it, RUN, don't walk to the video store) and Roll Bounce. This just adds to her budding greatness.

The plot itself, based on a true story, is simple: a small debate team from Marshall TX's Wiley College, a Black college, rises to prominence as the premier negro debate team. After a few tries, they are invited to debate the team from Harvard, the reigning national champs. Many online have complained about the movie's "racism," saying that the film unfairly depicts whites, most of whom in the movie are very anti-Black. They fail to realize this story is set in the 1930s in the South. There weren't exactly a slew of whites sympathetic to Blacks then. I found the movie to be fair and accurate - an unfortunate reflection of the time period and, to a lesser extent, the time we live in now (don't act like the recent resurgence of nooses, the Jena 6 incident, and Genarlow Wilson's unfair sentence mean nothing).

I HIGHLY recommend this movie. The best compliment I can give is that it got its messages across without brow-beating you with them (ahem, Tyler Perry). In fact, I was so inspired by The Great Debaters that I came home and finally completed rewriting a screenplay of my own. With any luck and a ton of planning, it'll go before the camera later this year. Who knows...

Maybe next year someone will be writing a piece about MY movie.