Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Earth-shattering news (or: How to resuscitate a dormant blog)

Not that I was holding out on posting due to a lack of news and/or movies seen -- difficulties we shall call "technical" halted my blogging for a bit, and there is much to write about as the days ensue (albeit infrequently, still) -- but this epic nugget from E.W. certainly is worthy of a few words:
"After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year," said AMPAS president Sid Ganis. "The final outcome, of course, will be the same—one Best Picture winner—but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009." In the '30s and '40s the Academy recognized between 8 and 12 Best Picture nominees each year.
There are pros and cons draped all over this story, and our little gold friend.

-Obviously, it makes the whole thing more inclusive, which sort of falls in the pros category since a five-film cutoff is a little arbitrary (sure, 10 is, too, but this means fewer films get left out).

-The term "Best Picture Nominee" gets cheapened a little -- a certain con.

-Because of the Academy's inexplicably strange Best Foreign Language Film rules, another pro is put in play: More recognition for the top non-English films.

-Unfortunately, the con side of this is it brings documentaries into the discussion, too. Documentaries have no business being listed alongside dramatic films. It's like the CBS Evening News and 24 fighting for the same Emmy.

-Then again, pro-wise, another out-from-the-ghetto type of film gets highlighted: the animated film ...

- ... but what if the world's Pixar crush becomes even more irrational, and the studio's every offering gets a slot -- no matter how crappy the movie is*? Potential con.


-And the final one is the ultimate pro vs. con: Who, excepting animated/foreign language/non-fiction films, gets the final five spots? Will the Academy follow its recent pattern, or revert to old practices?

What that means is this: For an extended span, Best Picture seemed the landing spot for period dramas (often epics) and audience/critical favorites (meaning "feel-good" movies; everything from E.T. to As Good as it Gets), with only the occasional outlier (Silence of the Lambs, Fargo, The Insider) thrown in. Meanwhile, the daring critical faves -- even near-unanimous badass movies like The Usual Suspects -- seemed destined for either Best Director, Best Screenplay, or oblivion*.

*Great song, by the way.

Lately, though, the Picture category had taken to actually leaving the house a bit. It snubbed some obvious award grabs (e.g. Dreamgirls and Cold Mountain) and even gave the gold to films that didn't fit the Best Pic Profile (consider: the 2004-07 winning string of Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed and No Country For Old Men -- not one epic or feel-good film on the list).

So what will we see, with more slots available? More love for the BIG movie? Or will Charlie Kaufman* and the like finally see one of his movies validated as one of the best of the year?

*Which reminds me ... there might be a Kaufman-related post coming soon ...

Monday, June 8, 2009

What the Doug?

Maybe it's the prevalence of "Doug" in The Hangover (review coming).

Maybe it's because he was in the brilliantly cheesy 1990s slasher flick Dr. Giggles*, which was brought recently to The Film Official's homestead by a little tool called On Demand.

*Remember, the black guy always dies first.

But for some reason, I'm sitting here wondering what we're all wondering: Whatever happened to Doug E. Doug?

You know, this guy, from Cool Runnings:

Well, after careful research, apparently the answer is this:

Next investigation: Tracking the career of Soldier #267 in Saving Private Ryan.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Finally: A best of 2009 list!

Recently I dubbed myself a "film sharpshooter," which means I choose the movies I pay for wisely*, which means the list of 2009 releases The Film Official has seen isn't very long, which means the "official" in this title isn't so official, is it? (Cheap joke alert) Official? Heck, I could probably officiate in the NBA with a record like this.

*Ed. note: The Hours and A Knight's Tale are exceptions.

But whatever. Here's a descending look at all the 2009 movies who have been graced by the presence of me*:

*Note 2: These rankings are subject to change, as is my mind, so positions might flip as time passes. As some guy once said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" ... and although I'm not really sure what a hobgoblin is, it sounds pretty scary -- like something that might be trying to drag me to the fire-and-brimstone underworld or something. I want nothing to do with that. OK, end of digression. Here are those long-anticipated rankings:

8. Watchmen (full review): The only true dud on this list. Lots of cool images, one intriguing character ... but when your movie is 12 hours long, shouldn't it at least look good and have, like, at least one intriguing character?

7. The Brothers Bloom (full review): A disappointment because of its imagery, its cast and high expectations after writer-director Rian Johnson auteured the fantastic Brick. This one just unravels, which is a shame.

6. Star Trek (um, cough, "full" review): You know those 5-Hour Energy commercials where they bash the sugary energy drinks -- you know, fun now, but doesn't last? Star Trek is one of those sugary energy drinks.

5. Observe and Report (full review): Has so much going for it that its occasional forays into ridiculous comedy seem forced. Coulda been.

4. Sugar (full review): Speaking (earlier) of sugar, Sugar is kind of the opposite of sugar. It's more like a piece of whole wheat bread. Perfectly OK, but either 1) could be tastier, or 2) could be better for you.

3. I Love You, Man (full review): Lots of fun, lots of Rush, lots of perfectly captured male awkwardness. Not gonna win any TFO awards unless 2009 really sucks, and it's no comedy HOF-er, but it's still memorably good.

2. Up (full review): Despite its late lapse into convention, it resonates emotionally and has a great message. Looks good, too, but that's kind of a duh for Pixar at this point.

1. Drag Me To Hell (full review): The only film on the list that exceeds expectations. It starts out slow ... but that's just director/co-writer Sam Raimi tricking you into thinking you're in for ordinary horror. Fun, funny, jumpy, creative -- all-time great it ain't, but it completely nails its target.

Anything but a Drag (or: Another pukey punny blog title)

When you're a film sharpshooter like me -- that is to say, you avoid seeing movies that look especially crappy, and you're not even sure the "merely OK" types (e.g. State of Play) are worth your time/money -- quite often you'll come away disappointed, since you're aiming high almost all the time.

Now, you take that and combine it with a documented love of horror (and the insistence that horror isn't especially tough to pull off), and it's easy to leave the theater underwhelmed instead of chilled by the latest offering, be it a slasher flick or a supernatural thriller.

(And when the film in question runs up a 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes ... well, that's just recipe for a Michael Bay-like explosion in one's face.)

Which, in an incredibly long-winded way, brings us to Drag Me To Hell ...

(The Hollywood News with the pic)

... which, simply put, was exceptional. Not in a There Will Be Blood, preserve-this-film-after-the-ice-caps-melt kind of way. It's more of a best-movie-I've-seen-this-year situation.

First: Drag -- Sam Raimi's story of an insecure-yet-ambitious bank employee (Alison Lohman) who, through certain fault of her own, becomes cursed by an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) -- is not horror in the typical sense. It makes you jump, close your eyes and/or wince in disgust, but always winks at you.

Well, not always. Part of its brilliance is how it begins; basically, it tries to fool you into thinking it's a straightforward horror story -- with its flashback opening, then some early scenes of absurdly phony dialogue (the Lohman character is even listening to diction tapes on the way to work!).

But it's all just a setup for another of Raimi's bizarro trips, which starts in a parking garage and ends -- well, I won't tell you where it ends. I'll just say this: As the curse becomes more and more outrageous, the scares more creative and the solutions increasingly strange, the film asserts itself as something of a less-gory, bigger-budget version of Raimi's classic Evil Dead 2.

No, there's no amorous tree here ... but there is an (understandably) angry black cat, an adventurous housefly and a whole lot more fun.

Feeling conned by The Brothers Bloom

After mentioning it once or twice -- not to mention loving writer-director Rian Johnson's debut, Brick -- The Brothers Bloom was a must-watch, despite its lukewarm critical reception.

(Pic found at HitFix)

Sadly, the critics were right. What starts out as a fun, breezy and occasionally poignant story -- two grifter brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) and their near-silent accomplice (Rinko Kikuchi) who attempt a multi-continent con on an eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz) -- gradually takes on larger themes as the con gets bigger and the film gets longer. In the end, it goes pretty much where you think it'll go, it takes too long to get there, and the message is delivered with a heavy hand.

One additional complaint on con movies: The plots tend to be too big or too intricate or too both. There's nothing wrong with a simple ruse -- fewer holes can be punched, making for a film that doesn't leave you going, "Hey, wait a second ..."

One compliment on Brothers (aside from the performances, which are -- unsurprisingly -- quite good): Johnson knows how to create him some images. Lets hope he gets his hand on a script* that lets him show his knack for aesthetics within the confines of an equally great story.

*Looks like that could be Looper. Let's hope so.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up to no great (or: Pixar is overrated)

I, like about $68.2 million worth of my peers, saw Up this weekend -- and no, that doesn't mean I aimed my eyes at the sky.

Funny thing is, although the film is set partially in a house that -- powered by balloons -- flies to South America, neither did Up. Instead, Up did what most Pixar movies do: It shot lower and hit its mark.

( with the pic)

That's not to say the film isn't good. It is. But "good" is they key word here, because what it does well -- it's about as emotionally grabbing as any film I've seen, and really leaves you wanting to hug somebody -- is offset partially by the same thing that hindered Wall-E and some of the other offerings from the unthinkable-to-question* animation studio: After unfurling another of its creative setups (this one involving a lonely widower fulfilling an unusual promise to his late wife), it devolves into formula (this one an "edge-of-your-seat" action finale that left me nowhere near falling off the theater's upholstery).

*Although, it must be noted, I did not like Ratatouille one bit.

Up's downturn isn't nearly as maddening as Wall-E's, since the former never reached the heights of the latter before treading familiar territory (although it did have me near tears earlier than any film I've seen, even my favorite little robot story). Still, it's a disheartening continuation down the "safe" path for the studio. It's like Spielberg's in charge there or something. Even the most original of concepts turn into unoriginal narratives by movie's end. It's as if they're pulling in adults, then pandering to the kiddies.

Although those box office numbers -- and the critical reception -- suggest everyone's pretty much OK with it. So I suppose it's hard to second-guess a studio that kills every time it releases something.

Still, just once, I'd love for that great creative team to go unchecked, offering something as weird and wild and wonderful as, say, The Triplets of Belleville -- in other words, a story that wows just as much as the technique does.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek quickie review

The Film Official emerges from the shadows to tackle a rare in-theaters movie. Thoughts on Star Trek ...

(Pic from ISN News)

... It's dece.