Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Movie Review: What Just Happened

My review of Robert De Niro's Hollywood-skewering What Just Happened, a movie that doesn't quite live up to the greatness of its source material but it nonetheless worth a look, is available here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Weekend Box Office: February 20-22

Courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

Nothing too crazy, although Tyler Perry had his biggest opening ever with Madea Goes to Jail. Taken continues on its path toward becoming a $100 M domestic hit, a rare feat in February, while Friday the 13th took a major drop to end up at 6th place - it's still over $55 M in two weeks, not bad for a low-budget horror film, even one with major brand recognition (although I imagine the marketing budget was pretty steep for this one, so the listed budget of $19 M is kind of misleading).

Next weekend, expect Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire to get a nice bounce. I would expect that one to be heading for DVD in the near future to take advantage of the eight Oscars it was awarded last night.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Guess who's taking home Oscar

While there are perhaps more 'sure things' at this year's Academy Awards ceremonies than usual, Oscar is notoriously fickle, and the unexpected should always be expected.  That said, here are my wholly unscientific predictions for the big night:
Best Picture - Slumdog Millionaire (I continue to vacillate between this and Benjamin Button as my pick for the top prize)
Best Director - Danny Boyle, for Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor - Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress - Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor - Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress - Viola Davis, Doubt
Best Adapted Screenplay - Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy
Best Original Screenplay - Milk, Dustin Lance Black
Best Animated Feature - WALL-E
Achievement in Art Direction - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Achievement in Cinematography - Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight
Achievement in Costume Design -  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Documentary Feature - Man on Wire
Best Documentary Short Subject - The Final Inch
Achievement in Film Editing - Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Foreign Language Film - Waltz with Bashir
Achievement in Makeup - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Achievement in Music - A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
Achievement in Music (Original Song) - 'Down to Earth' from WALL-E, Peter Gabriel
Best Animated Short Film - Presto
Best Live Action Short Film - The Pig
Achievement in Sound Editing - Iron Man
Achievement in Sound Mixing - The Dark Knight
Achievement in Visual Effects - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Movie Review: Changeling

My review of Clint Eastwood's latest gift to cinema lovers, Changeling, is now available here.

Weekend Box Office: February 13-15

Pardon my tardiness - fighting a bad cold - but here're the weekend stats, courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

The big news is the remake/reimagining of Friday the 13th killed (pun intended) over the weekend, taking in an estimated $45 M, despite the film costing a mere $19 M to produce. Horror movies are always a pretty safe bet, but this is phenominal - in one weekend, it has become the 13th (ironically) highest grossing slasher film of all time. All this and, by accounts from genre fans, they did it right too, preserving what people love about the series but putting an updated spin on it. I am very excited (as I'm sure the studio is) for the upcoming remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street from the same people behind this Friday and the excellent (if you like that sort of thing) remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Other story from these numbers is that Taken actually increased its weekend gross by 8%, despite losing a handful of theatres and being around for three weeks.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Movie Review: Pretty Woman [Blu-ray]

My review of the spanky new Blu-ray of Pretty Woman is now available here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Weekend Box Office: February 6-February 8

From Box Office Mojo.

He's Just Not That Into You predictably takes top spot, proving once again that romantic comedies are one of the safest bets in Hollywood (and are virtually critic proof).

But the bigger news is the mere 18% drop that Taken took - Liam Neeson, while certainly popular, has never been the secret to a big opening weekend (I don't think the money Star Wars: Episode 1 brought in can be attributed to his role...), yet people continue to show up in droves to see him punish those who took his daughter. I haven't seen it, what appears to be a fairly standard genre entry is also the first surprise hit of the year. Watch for a rash of kidnap-and-rescue/revenge movies in the next couple of years, because studio heads are certainly paying attention.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Movie Review: Real Time

My review of the Canadian comedy-drama Real Time is available here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Is the Academy out of touch?

The omission of The Dark Knight - the second-highest grossing film of all time, behind multiple Oscar winner Titanic - from the Academy Awards Best Picture nominations has had some question whether the Academy is out of touch with mainstream moviegoers, preferring small,under-seen character dramas to films that connect with audiences on a large scale. Which, of course, can lead to a debate of art vs. commerce with regard to filmmaking: yes, movies are intended to be entertainment first and foremost, but tying them directly to box office haul would turn them into the motion picture equivalent of the Billboard Music Awards (i.e. irrelevant).

But it's of serious concern to ABC, the television network with the broadcast rights to the Oscar ceremony. While the Academy Awards was once 'must see TV', ratings have steadily plummetedin recent years, leading to efforts to streamline the show and add more variety-type elements. And, the argument goes, things aren't being helped by little independent movies being honoured in place of populist - and critically acclaimed - fare like The Dark Knight.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why Oscar ratings aren't what they once were. First off, there's a ridiculous number of awards shows on TV nowadays, both on major networks and specialty channels. The Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Spirit Awards, the People's Choice Awards, etc. etc. Some of these have been around for years but are just now being available to the public, which in some cases has taken away some of the fun: the Globes, for instance, have always been a more casual awards night, incorporating dinner and lots of alcohol, so when they were first broadcast we got to see lengthy, heartfelt speeches from well-lubricated celebrities. This year, speeches had a time limit and the whole event seemed like a dress rehearsal for the Oscars. Regardless, there's bound to be a fatigue factor setting in, even in this celebrity-obsessed society.

Let's put that aside, though, and look at the films the Academy has chosen to honour over the past several years. Many would point to 1996 as a major shift in the types of movies that courted Oscar's favour. The Best Picture nominees that year were:


Secrets and Lies

Jerry Maguire

The English Patient (winner)


Only one of these were produced by a major studio or featured a well-known actor (Jerry Maguire). The rest were small independent projects, three of which were produced by now-defunct upstart studio Miramax, starring basically unknown actors, dealing with pretty dark subject matter. All were very good films, by the way, but none really captured the imagination of the North American public.

Here's the list of BP nominees the year before:

Braveheart (winner)

Apollo 13


Il Postino

Sense and Sensibility

You could say that's an odd line-up too, but it's certainly more mainstream than its successor. Braveheart, Babe, and Apollo 13 were all major-studio releases, and Sense and Sensibility featured well-known British actors and was pretty popular in its own right. Only the foreign-language Il Postino was likely to make people say, "what?"

What about the '97 Oscars - were they as anti-mainstream as the year before?

As Good As It Gets

The Full Monty

Titanic (winner)

L.A. Confidential

Good Will Hunting

Here we've got a mix of independents (Good Will Hunting, The Full Monty) and big-budget studio pictures (As Good As It Gets, Titanic, L.A. Confidential), with the biggest of them all taking home the little golden man. Hardly out of touch with popular opinion, I would say (although possibly out of touch with reality, calling The Full Monty one of the year's best).

Let's look at a complete list of BP nominees from the past ten years:


Shakespeare in Love (winner)

Saving Private Ryan


The Thin Red Line

Life is Beautiful


American Beauty (winner)

The Cider House Rules

The Green Mile

The Insider

The Sixth Sense


Gladiator (winner)


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Erin Brockovich



A Beautiful Mind (winner)

Gosford Park

In the Bedroom

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Moulin Rouge


Chicago (winner)

Gangs of New York

The Hours

The Pianist

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (winner)

Lost in Translation


Mystic River

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World


Million Dollar Baby (winner)

The Aviator

Finding Neverland




Crash (winner)

Brokeback Mountain


Good Night, and Good Luck



The Departed (winner)


Letters from Iwo Jima

Little Miss Sunshine

The Queen


No Country for Old Men (winner)



Michael Clayton

There Will Be Blood


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



Slumdog Millionaire

The Reader

Well then. There are certainly a number of these nominees whose worthiness as Best Picture of the Year is debatable (cough - Shakespeare in Love - cough) but it looks to me like the Academy is pretty reliable in what makes up the Top 5: a couple of 'prestige' pictures from well-known directors, an independent or two that's made some noise on the film festival circuit (often courtesy of the brothers Weinstein), and a wild card that no one thinks has a snowball's chance in hell of winning.

So, is the Academy become out of touch? I would say, no more than it's always been. Yes it's odd that The Dark Knight won't be competition for the top honour, and were I voting I probably would've included it in my nomination package. But 'best' is subjective, and the collective preferences of the Academy is at once pretty established and yet not something one should take to the bank. If you look at awards shows in general as a way for good movies to get larger viewership, than perhaps omitting The Dark Knight isn't such a bad thing. If you look at them as celebrating the honest-to-goodness best films released in a given year, you're probably set up for disappointment.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Spectaclefest 2009!

A couple of awesome teaser trailers showed up during last night's Super Bowl: G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (A new teaser for Star Trek, comprised of mostly already-seen footage also appeared, along with the wholly unnecessary Angels & Demons, starring Tom Hanks' hairpiece, but neither rank on the awesome scale anywhere near the aforementioned pictures - maybe it's the lack of colons in their titles).

You remember (or maybe you don't) how when you played with G.I. Joes as a kid, you'd make them do all kinds of crazy moves while sailing through the air in slow motion? Well, apparently the makers of Rise of Cobra do, since that seems to be Snake Eyes' sole purpose in this film. So. Very. Cool.

As for Transformers, it looks like Michael Bay's decided that the giant freakin' robots in the first one were just a little too small, so why not up the stakes a little this time. This explosion-laden 30-seconds gives little inkling of the plot, but I imagine it involves someone falling, then taking revenge.

Weekend Box Office: January 30-February 1 2009

According to Box Office Mojo.

Surprisingly, an action movie (Taken) grabbed top spot despite this being Super Bowl weekend, with Renee Zellweger romantic comedy New In Town putting up some fairly dismal numbers. The movie was also the second-highest grossing movie of all time on Super Bowl Weekend (behind last year's Hannah Montana extravaganza). I guess you can't underestimate the appeal of Liam Neeson kicking some ass. Also nice to see Luc Besson (writer/director of The Fifth Element) getting a much needed hit, as he's credited with co-writing Taken.