Review- Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Josh Hutcherson, Luis Guzmán, Vanessa Hudgens and Dwayne Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps one of the things that works best about Journey 2: The Mysterious Island if that it gives you sort of a non-sequel/quickstart. The concept of the film is introduced quickly and simply and before you know it we’re on the beginning of the quest. It’s a film that knows it’ll be plot-driven so it gets right down to it.

That being said there are a few character and dialogue issues that come into play right away. They don’t rear their ugly heads too often but they do hold the film back a little bit. In the first scene things are going swimmingly and then Sean (Josh Hutcherson) sees longitude and latitude coordinates and doesn’t know what they are though it’s already established he’s a straight-A student. There are also perhaps too many attempts to make certain plot elements seem plausible with lengthy explanations. The elements are well thought out but the dialogue is somewhat clumsy and didactic.

To address the only other bugaboo quickly there’s also the unnecessary complication of gold in this film also, a bit like the latest Chipmunks movie. It’s such and antiquated and tired cinematic motif, and hard to swallow in a life or death situation.

Journey to the Center of the Earth was a precursor to the 3D renaissance and it was very good and took advantage of the technology. This film may not be up to that standard , partially based on other production decisions, but it is good and utilized 3D that’s worth the up-charge for sure.

The cast in this film is quite good and keeps the tone light and fun and makes up for any inadequacies the film may have. Josh Hutcherson is clearly the lead, while he’s always been a great talent, here he really shows he’s already a movie star by carrying an action vehicle with some heavy-hitters. That being said Dwayne Johnson does well here with his usual good delivery of humorous one-liners he also works well with Michael Caine who effortlessly adds a nutty adventurousness to the film. Luis Guzmán, who has been hilarious in countless things gets a much bigger part and stage upon which he can shine.

The movie keeps the laughs consistent, which keeps the tone fitting with the prior installment. This means that this film will earn new fans and please old ones in equal measure.

The CG on screen is better than TV and trailers can really give you a sense of and the action sequences are pretty good. They work especially well with the good 3D.

This is a real fun and funny follow up to the prior film that made it worth the wait.

7/10

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84th Annual Academy Awards

Before We Even begin

Here are the pertinent links you’ll need as a frame of reference for my thought-process as the evening progresses.

In a vacuum my thoughts on what the nominees should’ve been based on what I saw can be found in the BAM Award Nominees. The pertinent winners can be found in these three posts (Acting, Crew and Film).

For a slightly less competitive slant on the year in film you can check out my Top 25 of 2011 (#25-21, #20-16, #15-11 and #10-1).

For what I want to happen and what I think will happen in most categories tonight go here.

You’ll note I didn’t comment on the short films as I was ill-informed at the time. I have since seen them my thoughts on the live action shorts and animated shorts are now available.

I’ll likely only know at the end of the night how well or how poorly I did in regards to prognosticating but you can follow the post here or tweet me during the show and I’ll likely respond.

The Red Carpet

I always complain about E!’s coverage yet what am I watching before I leave for the party. Yeah…

What’s written under that piece of paper with the Canadian flag on it? Press ID or what?

These Oscars will at least be more engaging because of the sizable screen I am seeing them on.

If not for the little skirt thing Michelle Williams’s dress would be perfect.

George Clooney is the only current star who looks like he fell out of the Golden Age. Everyone else is slightly awkward in a tux.

Milla Jovovich is now in the pole position for best dressed.

Maybe Penelopé Cruz now. Pretty amazing look.

The Ceremony

Billy Crystal still has it. Amazing opening. Wow.

They have to get Tom Hanks.

Robert Richardson wins for Hugo! Amazing! My favorites are 1-1.

Switching up the announcements this year.

Hugo again yes! Called set design on both counts I think.

Where’s this band coming from?

The Artist takes costume design. Is the start of the dominance?

Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas sighting. Good to see them. For all my E! complaining they do seem to be less myopic.

It’ll be hard to top the speech by A Separation.

Octavia Spencer wins for The Help. Well done. Great work. First standing ovation of the show.

This band in the boxes is the consistent bad idea in this show.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wins editing. Funniest awkward acceptance.

Hugo gets sound editing. That’s three.

Another editing/mixing sweep. Hugo is up to four wins.

Not a surprise considering the attendance numbers that the Oscars are focusing on celebrating moviegoing this year.

Undefeated I’ve heard about and want to see. Memorable speech for an audio dump and the first playoff of the next.

Rango best animated feature.

Hugo in somewhat of an upset, which pleases me. Five now.

Christopher Plummer with a much deserved win and standing ovation. Great moment.

Thankfully the president’s speech was short and followed by one of the best jokes of the night.

In all seriousness what is the rule about using non-original music in scores. Loved The Artist and its original music but it did use a lot of Vertigo.

Well, my gamble in a competition fell through. Not surprised Muppets won. There were better songs in Rio than the nominee.

The first wow of the night. Woody Allen won it. I was taken aback. Amazing and awesome.

Surprising but pleasant live action winners. Political speeches abound. Great speech from animation winners.

Should’ve charged my phone the whole way. Blogging by phone is draining may power down before the end of the show.

It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated

Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall in Cleopatra (20th Century Fox)

“It’s a an honor just to be nominated” is a phrase that’s such a truism that it rings empty and hollow. In fact, you hardly hear it anymore, however, I do believe actors when they do say it. The fact is there are only so many Oscar nominations to go around such that many very, very talented people never even get so much as nominated. While some have one standout performance that grabs everyone’s attention. Below you will find a list that could be longer of some notable actors who never even were nominated for supporting or leading actor/actress prizes.

Pictured above is one of the more unfortunate cases: critics at the time and film historians agree that Roddy McDowall was a virtual lock for Best Supporting Actor in Cleopatra. However, a clerical error submitted him as a lead. Fox tried to rectify the mistake but the Academy wouldn’t allow it thus McDowall was not even nominated. An ad taken out by Fox apologizing for the oversight and commending McDowall’s performance was a poor consolation prize at best.

Best Non-Oscar Nominees

1. Christopher Lee
2. Bela Lugosi
3. Boris Karloff
4. Vincent Price
5. Edward G. Robinson
6. Mae West
7. Michael Keaton
8. Peter Lorre
9. Mel Gibson
10. Sonia Braga
11. Alan Rickman
12. Fernanda Torres
13. Roddy McDowall
14. John Barrymore
15. Joseph Cotten
16. Errol Flynn
17. Bob Hope
18. Lloyd Bridges
19. W.C. Fields
20. Lon Chaney, Jr.
21. Victor Mature
22. Conrad Veidt
23. Peter Cushing
24. Donald Sutherland
25. Eli Wallach
26. Robert Blake
27. Malcolm McDowell
28. Kurt Russell
29. Martin Sheen
30. Christopher Lloyd
31. Jeff Goldblum
32. Steve Buscemi
33. Kevin Bacon
34. Vincent D’Onofrio
35. Marilyn Monroe
36. Jean Harlow
37. Rita Hayworth
38. Myrna Loy
39. Hedy Lamarr
40. Tallulah Bankhead
41. Maureen O’ Sullivan
42. Betty Grable
43. Jane Russell
44. Jeanne Moreau
45. Barbara Steele
46. Mia Farrow
47. Margot Kidder
48. Jamie Lee Curtis
49. Meg Ryan
50. Ellen Barkin
51. Isabelle Huppert
52. Shelley Duvall
53. Madeline Stowe

Short Film: The Cat Came Back

To recognize and honor the fact that two National Film Board of Canada produced animated shorts were up for the Oscar this year I figure this Short Film Saturday Should honor one of the great animated films ever produced, an NFB production from 1988 entitled The Cat Came Back. It too was nominated for an Oscar and I also seem to remember that Cartoon Network way back when they, you know, showed cartoons included it in its all-time top 10 amidst the titans of animation like the Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry and so forth in terms of a single animated short. I can’t really argue against that. Anyway you slice this thing it’s great. Click the link below and enjoy!

The Cat Came Back

So You Wanna Win Best Foreign Language Film?

Gaspard Mannesse and Raphael Fejtö in Au Revoir les enfants (Orion)

To be clear this article is not meant in any way shape or form to disparage the Academy. This list is aimed at the film enthusiast who may, as I used to, get a bit too worked up about who won or lost. Granted you will link your opinion to a sense of justice, however, it bears keeping in mind that below are over 30 films all of whom were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film but did not win all of whom have a legacy stronger than most winners of the award. Ultimately, time, the public and critical re-appraisal are what determine the films that last, awards, while nice, are in the moment comparatively speaking. The Oscars are a great show and if something or someone you like wins its even better but if not its not the end of the world. The list below is evidence of that.

1. Umbrellas of Cherbourg
2. Kapò
3. Marriage Italian Style
4. Kwaidan
5. Stolen Kisses
6. Lacombe, Lucien
7. Cousin Cousine
8. Jacob the Liar
9. That Obscure Object of Desire
10. Kagemusha
11. The Last Metro
12. Das Boot
13. Colonel Redl
14. Au Revoir Les Enfants
15. Pathfinder
16. Farewell My Concubine
17. The Scent of Green Papaya
18. The Wedding Banquet
19. Eat Drink Man Woman
20. O Quatrilho
21. Secrets of the Heart
22. Four Days in September
23. The Thief
24. Central Station
25. Children of Heaven
26. Amores Perros
27. Lagaan
28. Amélie
29. Evil
30. The Chorus
31. Downfall
32. Pan’s Labyrinth
33. After the Wedding
34. The White Ribbon
35. Incendies

Review- Big Miracle

Drew Barrymore in Big Miracle (Universal)

Big Miracle is based in part on a true story. One of the things that was interesting while watching it is that as it progressed I realized I was vaguely aware of the story as a kid. This was around the point I saw the set design was pretty accurate as there was in the film a globe I had as a child around that time. Another interesting tidbit is that if you stick around for the end credits you’ll see real footage that shows you how close to the story they stay.

The film really does tell a multi-faceted tale in as much as it deals with the political/military involvement in the rescue, the journalist’s perspective, the environmentalist’s viewpoint, the indigenous population, the oil company to an extent and also some well-meaning opportunists. This seems like a lot to handle, and it is, but the film does really well with it all. The balance stays about as good as it can be. In the end all the characters are examined, respected and working towards the same end.

Clearly with all those avenues there is quite an ensemble at work to make it happen. The two leads would have to be Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski. Both do very well but Krasinski’s the surprise offering more depth than I’m used to. They get great help from Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney and Vinessa Shaw as the somewhat antagonistic triad. Also very noteworthy are John Pingayak and Ahmaogak Sweeney, as a tribal leader and his grandson respectively. Newcomer Sweeney is featured in perhaps the best rendered and written scene where he alone, after his grandfather failed, finds his connection to the whales.

It is not a film about the whales in and of themselves. It’s of course about the people involved but also in the grand scheme of things it’s about environmental responsibility and humanitarianism most ostensibly and the other general themes that always find their ways into stories.

As mentioned above the best moment of the film is one I’d characterize as a spiritual awakening. While there are a lot of themes and factions fighting for attention in this film the importance of the indigenous population is not overlooked and the culture is given a respectful treatment, which folds into the narrative rather than standing apart.

This film does manage to have its emotional and moving scenes both at a moment of apparent defeat and during the climax. It manages to make you invest in the characters and though it’s not Free Willy and the whales don’t become characters per se you, of course, feel for them also.

The key antagonists, roadblocks to freeing the trapped whales, are politics and money, which usually go hand in hand. I think this aspect is well handled for the most part. While there was a lot of backbiting both sides seemed accurately portrayed and the symbolism and political chess game seems well drawn.

Big Miracle might not be the simplistic movie you anticipate it to be but for all the avenues it explores it never gets unfocused. Much like the news story it’s based on it’s a unifying force that brings its characters together. It’s a fun, enjoyable and occasionally emotional movie.

8/10

Review- The Woman in Black

Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black (Hammer Films)

Perhaps what’s most noticeable about The Woman in Black is that it is Gothic Horror. It un-apologetically so and it is a fine and darn near pitch perfect example of it too. One often hears the word atmosphere associated with movies, if you’ve ever wondered what people mean by that watch this movie.

I have frequently written about the teaser scene in a horror film, the quick scare at the very beginning to give the audience a jolt before building the story and characters. Not only does this one tie-in very closely, which is important but it’s very memorable, brilliantly shot and staged.

The drama of this tale despite its shocks is rather subsumed. It isolates its protagonist effectively and allows him the time to feel the place, find information and get intimations about what this place is really like. His story is also well and clearly defined early on and adds an element of necessity to the story which is key as the question of “Why don’t they just leave?” is one horror films frequently have to contend with.

The film uses practically every element at its disposal to add to the tension. It has the unwanted outsider aspect without overdoing it, the location plays a role as does the set design. The isolation of the character allows all the jump scares to more or less work because he’s usually spooked and there’s nothing done aimed solely at the viewer. Everything becomes a chore and an obstacle that makes the coming events have even more impact and the stakes rise consistently throughout.

The film is further supported by tremendous ensemble work. Horror films typically get the short shrift acting-wise. With such a tale as this the actors really need to sell it and work well with one another as interactions are at a premium. The cast is lead by Daniel Radcliffe whose growth as a performer has been something to watch. This may not be the character or project one would’ve expected to start the next phase of his career but that’s the genius of it. It’s a character and it’s a subdued work not a tentpole, regardless he sells it. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer also shine in disparate but crucial supporting roles. Not to be overlooked are the ensemble of children in this film who almost always play in crucial scenes and are a big factor.

When I spoke of jump scares earlier there is an implied allusion to sound design there which I will address here. Now I typically take issue with scares based mostly on the sheer volume of the accompanying sound effect but this film seems to have a progressive plan. Not only are these jolts always accompanied by a creepy visual but they also go down decibel-wise as the film moves on, indicating a decided plan, which works. Once the movie has you it needn’t try as hard.

There are few things that can match a well-made Gothic horror film, an excellently crafted one is nearly untouchable. This film is the former, a truly special and brilliant horror film.

10/10

So You Wanna Win Best Picture?

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Amblin)

To be clear this article is not meant in any way, shape or form to disparage the Academy. This list is aimed at the film enthusiast who may, as I used to, get a bit too worked up about who won or lost. Granted you will link your opinion to a sense of justice, however, it bears keeping in mind that below are 25 films all were nominated for Best Picture, did not win but all have a legacy stronger than most winners of the award. Ultimately, time, the public and critical re-appraisal are what determine the films that last, awards, while nice, are in the moment comparatively speaking. The Oscars are a great show and if something or someone you like wins it’s even better but if not it’s not the end of the world. The list below is evidence of that.

Films That Didn’t Win Best Picture

1. Citizen Kane
2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
3. King Kong
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. The Color Purple
6. The Sixth Sense
7. The Maltese Falcon
8. Apocalypse Now
9. Raging Bull
10. Star Wars
11. JFK
12. A Few Good Men
13. Pulp Fiction
14. As Good As It Gets
15. Double Indemnity
16. It’s a Wonderful Life
17. High Noon
18. Miracle on 34th Street
19. The Ten Commandments
20. Dr. Strangelove
21. The Graduate
22. The Exorcist
23. Chinatown
24. Jaws
25. Taxi Driver

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

In recent years there have been nationwide screenings of the Oscar-nominated short films, which is a great thing for many reasons: clearly it promotes the filmmakers but also as a filmmaker and Oscar spectator you’d like to have an informed opinion based on more than just the title and/or the snippet shown, which I have operated under many times.

Sunday

Sunday (Dimanche) (The National Film Board of Canada)

A really charming and imaginative piece that sees the world accurately through a child’s eyes and more importantly through his imagination.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

I will start out by saying I do love the concept of this short. There are some funny, insightful and charming moments, however, this short also bothered me on more than one occasion. It’s the most original idea but yet feels the need on several occasions to incorporate tropes that make it more mundane, more ordinary and less intriguing. One of the tropes is absolutely unnecessary spoon-feeding that puts a damper on the ending. The concept the film has gives it an edge I just feel some of the choices it makes means it doesn’t live up to its fullest potential. All that said I fully anticipate this film will win even though there are several worthy shorts.

Wild Life

Wild Life (The National Film Board of Canada)

If my gut about Oscar voters is right this is a long shot but by no means should it be. The animation in this film is beautiful in a painterly style and the story has comedic and dramatic impact. It also features some frames, a title-card driven subplot and documentary style confessionals. For a short it’s got so much going on, great stuff.

La Luna

La Luna (Disney/Pixar)

An absolutely wonderful and whimsical tale that is pure magic. The short features no actual dialogue but says so much. It boasts a beautiful score by Michael Giacchino and great 3D animation. My favorite by far.

A Morning Stroll

A beautifully constructed and simple tale that uses several different animation styles to equal effect.

The animated program also usually features several highly commended shorts, as the nominees usually run short.

This year’s highly commended selections are: Skylight, Nullarbor, Amazonia and The Hybrid Union. All are very good and consistent across the board. In fact, some of the biggest reactions at my rather full screening was during this portion and I’d venture to say Skylight was the funniest one by far.

This year’s animation slate is quite strong with a few titles I’d be happy to see win.

Short Film Saturday: Aqua

This post serves two purposes in essence: one it serves to highlight a great young talent in animation (Gints Zilbalodis) and second to steer you towards a great Twitter account. I would not have seen this if I didn’t follow @ShortOfTheWeek, which is a great resource if you want to discover shorts on your own time. The film was uploaded to Vimeo, the more cinematic video site and is accompanied by this text written by its creator:

My name is Gints Zilbalodis, I’m 17 years old and this has been my passion project for the last year an a half. It started as vague ideas of a cat, ocean and overcoming fear. Then through numerous battles with the script it shaped up to something similar you can see now. After seven drafts I felt that it was ready to start storyboarding, but the film kept evolving all the way until the sound mix was done. I kept learning about filmmaking everyday, going through all of the different processes.

I chose the cat as the main character mainly to save time with exposition, because people know that generally cats are afraid of water. So I could just jump right into action. Plus cat is a fairly small creature and the ocean seems even bigger to him. And of course cats are much easier to draw than humans.

The film’s music is by my friend Bertrams Pauls Purvišķis who helped a great deal to tell the story the way it was intended. Music had a lot of to convey in very little time and it came out much better than I could’ve ever expected.

I’ve been delaying the release for quite some time, because as I learned by making it, a lot of mistakes made earlier when I didn’t have the experience had to be remade from scratch. I’m glad it’s finally done and I can show it to the world.

I will only further comment by saying its very visual but the music is brilliant, enjoy!