Oscars Recap – All Hail Tarantino!

tarantino oscar

Yes, you heard me! That’s right, I said it and I’m not taking it back! I couldn’t be happier than to see Quentin walk away with an Oscar for the best original screenplay. After all, it is his crown category. There. I’m happy.

The Academy Awards have been awarded, the champagne has been drunk, the carpets have been rolled back in, the tuxedos have been laundered and the limos have been returned to that place that rents limos for Hollywood extravaganzas. It’s all gone now and we can now recollect Seth MacFarlane’s inappropriate jokes, Jennifer Lawrence’s slip up on her way to the stage, Quvenzhané Wallis’ doggie-shaped purse or suspiciously large amount of male Oscar recipients with long blonde hair. Continue reading

85th Academy Awards – Predictions and Wishful Thinking

010913_OscarsLogoABC

‘Tonight’s the night… And it’s going to happen again and again… It has to happen.’

That quote from “Dexter” pretty much sums up the atmosphere surrounding what is going to happen in the next couple of hours. The awards season is about close again with the most widely recognized ceremony in the history of everything ever – The Oscars. I have to admit I feel a bit like a serial killer (but with a code) on the prowl now and I am quite certain I’m not the only one. Many of us have our own personal predictions, favorites and what-not. Therefore, I figured I would devote a bit of space to the Oscars and see how I do when it comes to making predictions. Continue reading

Shortcake #5 – “Sprung” and “Watch your mouth”

Yes, that’s right. More Tropfest goodies straight from sunny (wait, what?) New Zealand. After discovering “Sounds Perfect” completely by accident, I figured it would be unwise of me if I did not get a peek at other entrants in the Hobbiton edition of Tropfest. And so I have…

Quite frankly, I was a bit baffled by the jury’s decision to award the Grand Prix to “Cappucino Tango”, which I think was a good piece, but not good enough for me. I’m sorry but it looked like a homework assignment in ‘Film making 101’ class. Nevertheless, most of the shorts that got shortlisted for the finals were shot very professionally and stood their ground in terms of production value. In my view, however, there were one or two front runners that stood out above the crowd.

Because, you see, short form has its obvious limitations, so the idea, story and the resultant art needs to circumvent them and escape the confinement. So, trying to pack as much dialogue and content into a 7-minute-long form is not necessarily the way to go. Of course, Tarantino would probably prove me wrong here, but still I believe that a good short needs to have a spark of sorts. Otherwise, it might just come across as a pretentious attempt to make a mini-movie with everything in it. Whenever you order appetizers at a restaurant do you expect to get a mini steak with a miniature portion of chips and a salad on the side? Well, I sure don’t.

Therefore, I have to say that “Sprung” by Grant Lahood ended up being one of my personal favorites  It’s well-paced, shot and cut beautifully and is simply funny – in a good way. What is it about? Let’s say that “Sprung” is about how physics ruins our hopes and dreams. I can’t really say much more than that – you just need to watch it for yourselves. It’s a bite-size mini doughnut filled with deliciousness.

The other short that caught my attention was “Watch your mouth” by Cristobal Araus Lobos. It is directed and edited very decisively, so that the dialogues don’t scream ‘amateur’. The story holds its ground and it doesn’t attempt to have a moral at all cost. “Watch your mouth” is a witty play at the concept of whether tooth fairies, Santa and other childhood make-believe demigods have a place among us and strikes the fine balance between the content, dialogue and the message, all packaged very neatly.

All in all, both “Sprung” and “Watch your mouth” are very good and deserve some recognition. Still, if I had been responsible for who gets the awards, hands down “Sounds Perfect” would have been my first choice.

“Wreck-it Ralph” – I nearly cried…

While I’m trying to get my thoughts together in order to write my non-review-die-hard-related something I figured that I’d scribble a few lines on an unrelated topic. Having been born in the eighties I tend to identify myself with the video/arcade game generation rather strongly. I was merely a young lad when the internet popped up… As a young man I observed how Google rose to power… And so forth… I had the pleasure to witness one of the biggest revolutions in modern history, be a part of it and at the same time had the privilege to remember ‘the world of the past’.

uk-poster-for-wreck-it-ralph-plays-ups-the-arcade-action-115852-00-470-75

Yes, my childhood happened mostly outside and video games occupied only a small part of my life as a kid, which I am rather proud of now that I’m writing this. On rainy days, however, or during winter break (I could never be persuaded to ski), my friends and I would binge our way through “River raid” or “The Lost Vikings”, take turns trying to beat “Cannon Fodder” and “Contra”, organize “Mortal Kombat” tournaments and kick the living poop out of our super Nintendo consoles, Commodore C-64, and prehistoric PCs. Oh, how many joysticks have I murdered in my time…? How many keyboards destroyed…? And how much fun it was… Even though the games used to be much harder than the modern ones (I could maybe name a couple of games that I finished as a kid, normally the games got progressively harder until a point where they would become unbeatable), we used to spend our time failing at them to no end, all with banana-type grins on our faces. Well, until the moms wouldn’t barge in and kill whatever fun we were having.

So, if you remember “Donkey Kong”, “Super Mario”, “Prince of Persia”, “Sonic”, or the original “Mortal Kombat” then you’d definitely enjoy “Wreck-it Ralph”. Be it in cinemas (damn you, UK!!!) or DVD, it’s definitely worth your time. I had a fantastic time and I am not even sure that this film was aimed at children at all. I feel as though I was the target viewer with all the winks and nudges that the younglings nowadays cannot possibly understand. It’s a fantastic story, albeit the story arc has been beaten to death at this point, and its emotional value was simply phenomenal. I love a good fairy tale and “Wreck-it Ralph” definitely belongs in that category, although not in the obvious Shrek-like way.

For those of you who still have no idea, “Wreck-it Ralph is a story set in the world of arcade video games. Ralph is a baddie in a game “Fix-it Felix Jr.” where his job is to destroy a building and the player’s is to fix it in time. But he’s no mere bad guy, as deep inside his heart is good. He’s depressed and lonely and decides that he no longer wants to continue the life of a villain. In order to change his life he embarks on a journey through video games that will change his life… forever.

 

I mean, everybody knows, what that kind of story is all about, right? But that’s beside the point. Even though I knew straight away, how exactly the story would unfold with most of its twists and turns, “Wreck-it Ralph” has just made my day. It was a fantastic film that made me reminisce about the days of my youth and I know for a fact that, if I have a son one day, I’ll make sure to introduce him to “Wreck-it Ralph”. Hell, I’ll introduce him to all the oldie video games that I loved. He might not share my passion towards them at once, because all the ‘modern warfares” and “need for speeds” are much prettier, but they sure don’t have the history behind them. And “Wreck-it Ralph” might just be the perfect vehicle to inspire the love for that kind of history that I hold dear to my heart.

“This is 40” – really?

There’s probably not much I can say about “This is 40” besides that I’m utterly disappointed. That was not what I expected and Judd Apatow should be ashamed of himself for having wasted my time. I mean, I would moan and groan often about how our domestic distributors fail to release movies without considerable delay compared to the U.S. of A. I can’t stand that and it bothers me personally. This film, however, could have stayed un-premiered for far longer, if you ask me.

Herein, I would like to congratulate the responsible body for releasing this pathetic, lifeless, moronic, impotent, dim, sloppy, shameful, makeshift, tawdry, and unfunny excuse for a comedy on Valentine’s Day in the UK. Ok, I’m not stupid and I know this dud was released on that day specifically in order to lure the unsuspecting love-struck couples to the cinema under the pretence of a cheerful, feel-good, funny and refreshing romantic comedy.

Well, it’s not. The doors are shut and you are stuck in the theatre. You paid a tenner and now you have to sit there and survive this excruciatingly long display of sadness and mediocrity. After all, it’s not personal. It’s business… Money exchanged hands, the producers got richer and you got poorer. And chances are that your date didn’t go as planned, because the film was crap and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’d really like to know what the premise of this movie was in the first place. Because it seems to me, as if the producers got together and thought that they could maybe get away with making “Knocked up 2”, but different. They’d take the sideline characters from that film and put them in the spotlight. But… What would they be doing? Oh, nothing, they’d just be sitting there exchanging anecdotal stories and toilet humor… Like, all the time. Is that really what happened?

“This is 40” is e-x-a-c-t-l-y what the title suggests. It’s a movie about a couple of 40-year-old people (and they are not virgins, so it’s not funny). And just as you’d expect, being forty is not spectacularly interesting. It’s boring, predictable and conventional. Full Stop. So they have a teenage daughter (self-explanatory), financial issues, marital problems, identity crises and pretty much every cliché problems that middle-aged people have. Sadly, it’s not “American Beauty” and it’s not awesome. The only thing “This is 40” shows, is that being forty sucks big time. Well, whoop-dee-friggin-doo. Kill me now, because I had not realized that already.

Or maybe it’s a part of this elaborate plan of letting young people in on what awaits them once they seal the deal, get married, have kids, a mortgage and there is no going back. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? Because how else would we know that, if it hadn’t been for Judd Apatow?

Now I’m perfectly aware of the fact that being in a committed relationship and having children means hiding in the toilet to play on my iPad, hiding resentment, constantly fighting, pointlessly shifting the blame and making a fuss out of passing gas in bed. It turns out that real life, just as “This is 40”, is a mostly incoherent collage of miserable jokes and ridiculously paced, redundant events that are somehow supposed to build up to a climax of sorts, upon which my faith in true love would be restored. Nothing makes you happier than seeing other people’s trials and tribulations, right? If that’s the case, I need to seriously rethink my life.

Rant over.

Dear John, why don’t you go and die hard somewhere else?

There comes a time in every man’s life when he can no longer call himself a child and becomes a grown man. It happens to everyone, sooner or later, but inevitably we all go through this important transition into adulthood. What triggers that metamorphosis is usually very personal and unique to all of us. Most often we can’t pinpoint the exact moment in our lives where this fine line lies, but what we can do – by looking back – is to make sure on which side we were at a given point in time.

This is what I had hoped would happen to me upon watching the newest installment of the franchise that has my adolescence written all over it. What I’m referring to is “A Good Day to Die Hard” or simply “Die Hard 5”. I had hoped for a travel back in time.

I don’t really have to reiterate that even though I was born in the eighties (in the Orwellian year, to be exact), the 80’s action cinema had a profound influence on how I perceive the days of my youth. Yes, I remember referring to Steven Seagal as ‘Nico’ while discussing movies with my peers. I remember Robocop being the ultimate crime-fighter as well as I remember trying to master his cow-boyish manner of holstering the gun (with a toy gun, of course). I remember tying a bandana across my forehead and pretending to be John Rambo while playing with my friends outside. I remember Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger being my childhood role models (with the latter still having his special spot in my heart). And how could I not remember John McClane – the badass who didn’t want to be a badass.

a-good-day-to-die-hard_13602342020

Oh my, if I could tell you how many times I watched the original “Die Hard” before I turned 18… If I throw “Die Harder” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance” to the pile, we’d easily be in three-digit numbers here. I remember being so in love with this (at that time rather fresh) idea of a man like you or me, with problems, vices, addictions and all that, being put up against professional scumbags with little chance of survival, let alone victory. That concept swept me off my feet. I recall that discomfort of not having a protagonist who is proficient in aikido, a former marine, a super-cop, or Arnie. John McClane was just a wrong guy in a wrong place at a wrong time. He bled (and everyone knows ‘that if it bleeds, we can kill it’), swore horribly, kept running out of ammo or kept finding himself in deeper trouble that he had possibly anticipated. I loved him in the original, I loved him in the sequel, I loved him in the third one… Hell, I even liked him in the fourth one, but for a whole another reason.

This was what I expected this morning before the opening credits to “A good day to die hard” rolled in the cinema. This was what I wanted. And I couldn’t be more disappointed. Seriously: what the <bleep> was all that?

The whole idea behind Die Hard and John McClane was his relatability (is that even a word?). The fact that it could be anybody was the key factor to get a Die Hard right. It’s a regular cop stranded with terrorists in a skyscraper. It’s a regular cop that happened to be at an airport when poop hit the fan. Well, in the third one it was a bit different because it was Sam L. Jackson who became the every-man there. But still, McClane was an alcoholic cliché of a cop with no special skills or anything. Even in the fourth one – for crying out loud – he just happened to be that cop who was sent to pick a guy up for questioning. Why would you go, break the cycle and show me a John McClane who specifically went to Russia to stir some trouble? Why? It’s against all that’s good and holy in this world!

What I got was old, hard-boiled John McClane who miraculously got his hands on a Russian arrest report pertaining to his son (don’t worry about the spoilers – it’s all in the trailer) – he didn’t have problems reading in Russian by the way – and decided he needed to take a plane to a country that he had never visited before in order to help him. And, of course, he had no problem whatsoever stealing cars, wreaking havoc and committing all sorts of crime in a foreign country. Whilst he was doing all that he kept reminding himself out loud that he was on vacation and didn’t need all that, which was obviously a lie, because he deliberately chose to be there in the first place. So the whole notion of what Die Hard is all about got ruined within the first 10 minutes. Super…

 

I don’t really want to pick on the realism of this movie, because after all it’s an actioner and things are not supposed to make sense at times, but there are things in Die Hard 5 that are difficult to swallow even with the absurd threshold put really high. I’d say, it’s rather unlikely for the US Intelligence to deploy a drone to fly over Moscow without causing a major international conflict. I’d also say, it’s rather unlikely for the main character to go on a 1000 km long road trip at dusk and get to the destination before dawn – especially on Russian roads. I don’t even want to get into the technicalities of neutralizing radiation and such, therefore I shall stuff it under the collective umbrella of poetic licence, but there’s far too much absurd in “Die Hard 5” for me to swallow without choking.

There’s nothing in the newest Die Hard that was done right. What I think bothers me the most is the baddie. In the history of the franchise, it was the villains that stood out. The idea of an every-man McClane taking on a professional scumbag, who exuded confidence, emanated cold and was always one step ahead, was the soul of Die Hard. From Alan Rickman, through Jeremy Irons even to Tim Olyphant, the Die Hard bad guys were the ones with super powers. Moreover, those characters were so charismatic that I physically hated them. I just wanted McClane to do something about them. Here – not so much. I was given a baddie who’s not even there half the time. Even with the twist (yes, there’s a twist) nothing really changed. I couldn’t give a rat’s furry behind about it. The villain was just ‘meh’.

To sum up, there’s too many instances I’d have to turn my blind eye on things in the film, the baddie is flat and couldn’t even shine Alan Rickman’s shoes, McClane is a super hero now and he seems like he’s on some sort of medication but he hasn’t got the dosage right. None of what he says makes sense and even the witty remarks McClane was known for sound stale and inappropriate. Two-word review: just terrible.

What “A good day to die hard” proved to me today is that the genre I knew and loved has all but disappeared. I can’t really count on Die Hard any more to live up to what it used to be back in the day. I know it might be my pink-tinted-glasses-wearing nostalgia-ridden memories that are partially responsible for how horribly I was disappointed today, but now I don’t even want to know what the sixth installment would bring (and there’s going to be one). It seems to me that John McClane I loved is dead. The only thing he lacks now is a spandex uniform. Wearing underwear over the uniform wouldn’t hurt him either.

I really understand the need to do something new with the franchise, because it’s impossible to make five films about John McClane without being repetitive. The character needs to develop as he goes along and the first three parts showed some sort of progression in that regard. For the record, I actually liked the direction that the fourth Die Hard took. I loved the concept of showing old and grumpy McClane who doesn’t fit modern criteria for an action hero. However, even then he already started to be too powerful for my liking Sadly, it only escalated from there to completely overwhelm the character in the newest Die Hard.

Is it the abundance of comic book actioners in the modern cinema that’s responsible for the sad state of Die Hard? Is it really necessary for the action movie to have an invincible superhero as the main character? Can’t we preserve some of the sanctity of the 80’s? If we can’t, maybe there shouldn’t be any more Die Hard movies. Maybe certain things belong in the past…

I’m a bit worried for the younger generations, that cannot possibly remember Bruce Willis in his prime. What they’ll know is the John McClane that cannot be shot, will always cushion his landing one way or another, will happily bring a large city to a standstill and walk away unscathed and he will never show us that he is, after all, a human being. I fear that if I showed the original Die Hard to modern 16-year-olds, they would prefer the new one. Modern action films need to be flashy and overwhelming; otherwise the young audiences will lose focus and go somewhere else to be entertained. I find this realization quite frightening as it would seem that every aspect of action film needs to be dumbed down and cut to size in order to please the facebook generation. So go ahead and make more Iron Man movies, go and make the next Avengers. You can even dig up Batman, even though his corpse is still warm and try to breathe life into him. People will take it. But maybe we shouldn’t take the icons of the past and tarnish them with modern colors  Maybe some things need to be left alone.

Should I call the time of death yet?

“Hitchcock” – Ironically devoid of suspense

I think for the first time in a long time I have no real idea what to say about a film. I know I want to, but I’m a bit conflicted, to say the least. On one hand, I just saw a biographical piece on one of the most important figures in the world of film making, but emotions aside, “Hitchcock” left too much to be desired and – quite sadly – did not deliver.

I have to admit, that I held really high hopes for “Hitchcock”. With great award-winning cast and almost legendary status of Hitchcock’s persona that extends beyond the world of film, this biopic had all the chances in the world to give “Lincoln” the run for its money. And as much as I’d like to say that Sir Anthony Hopkins pulled a fantastic performance of embodying the one and only Sir Alfred Hitchcock – a movie extraordinaire, it was far from enough to let the film as a whole shed the skin of mediocrity. I don’t mean it to sound belittling neither to Hopkins nor to Helen Mirren (or even Scarlett Johansson, for that matter), because their respective performances were just a delight to watch, but it was just not enough.

I would even go as far as to say that Hopkins’ Hitch (‘Call me Hitch, hold the cock’, as he would allegedly say to Vera Miles) was so convincing that at times I would forget completely that it was in fact Sir Anthony Hopkins that I was watching. And it’s no small feat to achieve, as Hitchcock’s physique was – shall I say – almost too unique to personify, especially with the fact that Hitchcock’s facial features are essentially ingrained in popular culture. I think everybody would recognize the legendary shadow that accompanied Alfred wherever he would go.

Hitchcock-poster

Understandably, it took an unimaginable amount of effort for Hopkins to show Hitchcock in the most realistic possible way and I have to congratulate him on that, because with the aid extensive make-up and top-notch acting, the Hopkins’ demeanour – otherwise unforgettable and powerful – would fade away altogether making way for Alfred.  I do know that it is much easier to understand and learn the character when you have extensive footage of your subject at your disposal, which was not the case for Day-Lewis when he portrayed Lincoln, but I can honestly say that Hopkins should not be ashamed of his work – a work, which was just phenomenal.

Regretfully, I cannot extend my admiration to the entirety of “Hitchcock”. Let me put it this way: I enjoyed watching it very much, but it’s rather the opinion of this little boy religiously in love with cinema that resides in the dark recesses of my brain. I really enjoyed the opportunity to catch a glimpse of how the master used to work (even if the details were not exactly true), I loved to take a look at ‘the making of’ “Psycho” and see Hollywood through its kitchen window. What is more, the story is told in a way that makes us feel as though “Hitchcock” was just an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock presents”. Nevertheless, life is not a fairy tale and “Hitchcock” lacks too severely for ‘the adult me’ to acknowledge it as a great movie. It’s OK… at best.

Just like the award-winning “Lincoln”, “Hitchcock” is burdened by its script. It’s not enough to put fantastic actors in front of a camera for the viewers to fall in love with the picture. A good movie needs a compelling story even when it brings a legendary person back to life. The story “Hitchcock” tells basically boils down to showing how big of a role in Hitch’s life played his wife – Alma Reville. In essence, the film turns out to be more of a tribute to the woman hiding in the shadow of the master, and it was quite a shadow I might add; a shadow that could house more people than just Alma.

In the end, “Hitchcock” tries to be a love story, but the sad truth is that a good romance needs that spark of uncertainty, betrayal and heat. Instead, we see just a regular couple who’d  been there for one another for longer than they could remember. We see their spats and disagreements, the unspoken words of approval and the resulting unspoken grudge that Alma held against her husband, but nothing more… It’s not enough for a good story arc, at least not in my opinion. A decent love story needs to make me care for this couple. I need to feel the cathartic relief at the end, and in order to get me there, the characters need to have a bit more on their plates, if you know what I mean.

I still believe that “Hitchcock” could have been something more than just a hat tipped to Alma Reville. I understand that premise though, because her involvement in Hitchcock’s legend was probably far greater than anyone could possibly fathom. However, the film ended up being just an acting extravaganza. What I find the most ironic of it all, is the fact that the story about ‘the father of horror and suspense’ turned out to be fizzed-out and anti-climactic and if it hadn’t been for Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, it would have gone past the cinemas completely unnoticed.