The Silver Bullet ~ Our Brand is Crisis

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Synopsis: A feature film based on the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis”, which focuses on the use of American political campaign strategies in South America.

Release Date: October 30, 2015

Thoughts: Since winning her Oscar for The Blind Side in 2009, Sandra Bullock has chosen her projects cautiously.  Many a Best Actress winner followed up their wins with one or more (coughcoughHalle Berrycoughcough) disappointing outings and Bullock wisely steered clear of making any hasty decisions. She took a supporting role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, tried playing the straight man in The Heat, and found herself in the Best Actress race again with Gravity. In 2015 she voiced a villain in the animated Minions and she’s closing out the year in an adaptation of the 2005 political documentary Our Brand is Crisis. I have faith in Bullock and producer George Clooney, even if our first look at their collaboration leaves much to be desired.  Maybe it’s because we can’t tell if it’s a high stakes drama or a goofball comedy and it certainly doesn’t help my interest at all that Billy Bob Thornton (Entourage) shows up (teeth first, cueball head second).  Director David Gordon Green has an iffy record in my book but Bullock and good buzz sell it for me…still it’s not at the top of my fall movie list.

Movie Review ~ Minions

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob are recruited by Scarlet Overkill, a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb, hatches a plot to take over the world.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Allison Janney, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Saunders, Pierre Coffin, Steve Carell

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin

Rated: PG

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  In my review of 2013’s Despicable Me 2, I mentioned that the filmmakers succeeded in making an enjoyable sequel because of their understanding of exactly what the audience wanted…more Minions.  After Despicable Me 2 broke big at the box office, a third film was set for release in 2017 but in the interim a spin-off animated adventure has been created that focuses solely on how the Minions came to serve their not-quite-so evil master Gru.  You’d think that the most enjoyable elements from the first two films would be a slam-dunk when given their own film…but it turns out that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Look, I loved the Minions in the first two films and laughed at their gibberish language and love of bananas as much as the next easily pleased adult in the audience.  Heck, I even waited in line for a considerable time in a light drizzle for a spot on the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios in Florida.  It’s clear, though, that these were characters that worked better in their featured supporting roles and aren’t quite ready for headlining their own film.

The opening credits show the genesis of the Minions as they emerge from a prehistoric ocean and start their quest to serve the baddest of bad guys throughout time.  Their bumbling winds up offing their masters throughout history, though, from a T-Rex to Dracula to Napoleon and eventually they find themselves exiled into a cave frozen over with ice where they languish without a villainous boss to serve.  Not content with just lying around any longer, during the ‘60s the resourceful Kevin recruits two of his compatriots (Stuart and Bob) to venture out in search of an evil genius they can attend to.

Starting out in New York before heading to Florida and then England, the film follows the three pals as they become involved with the first female supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, Gravity) as she plots to overthrow the British monarchy.  Owing a little bit of its plot to King Ralph, the final half of film has the Minions first trying to help Overkill steal The Crown Jewels and then staving her off as she goes mad with newfound power.

Like the previous two entries in the Despicable Me universe, Minions feels too long even at the relatively short 91 minutes.  I was checking my watch before it was half over, a bad omen for a film not lacking in color or 3D distraction. (Like its predecessors, this one is worth the 3D upcharge…but make sure to stay until the final credits have passed for some impressive 3D effects.)  Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (who also voices every last Minion…totaling almost 1,000!) seem to know they don’t have enough material for a full-length feature so there are more than a few pit stops along the way, such as Stuart leading some Royal Guards in a sing-a-long to, randomly, a selection from the musical Hair.

The voice talent also is disappointingly underwhelming.  I was looking forward to Bullock’s performance but didn’t get much from her.  Like Frozen, the voices never seemed to really match their animated counterparts so you have the voices of talented actors like Bullock, Michael Keaton (RoboCop), Allison Janney (The Way Way Back), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), and Steve Coogan (Philomena) coming awkwardly out of designs that don’t sound totally correct.

It’s in the final five minutes where the movie shows some signs of life, not surprisingly it’s the part that acts as a bridge between Minions and Despicable Me, by that time I was just ready to get up and go so it’s a credit to the film that it finished up strong.  Still, in a summer that’s shown that there’s a case to be made for successful sequels, Minions is an example of how a spin-off (even one with good intentions) isn’t always the wisest route to take.  I’m sure the film will rake in a buttload of cash, though, so I hope that Despicable Me 3 puts the Minions back to work at what they do best…support the action rather than lead it.

Oscar Predictions 2014

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.  I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

BEST ACTOR
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

BEST EDITING
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen, Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Philomena
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Hunt, Denmark
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Notebook, Hungary

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Adam Stochausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael Corenblith & Susan Benjamin, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Daniel Orlandi, Saving Mr. Banks
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Mary Zophres, Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alex Ebert, All is Lost
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Crash Reel
Stories We Tell

The Square

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Amen”, All is Lost
“Let It Go”, Frozen
“The Moon Song”, Her
“Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Young & Beautiful”, The Great Gatsby

Movie Review ~ Gravity

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  I remember reading the plot summary for Gravity nearly two years ago and having no clue how director Alfonso Cuarón was going to pull it all off.  Essentially a two person film, you’d have to cast the right actors and keep their fight for survival moving at the correct pace to retain the attention of the audience.  Adding greater difficulty for a film set in space, the bar has been raised so high in the visual effects realm in recent years that you just can’t deliver anything less than astonishing to make us believe that this situation is real and happening in front of your eyes.

It’s probably an understatement to say that Gravity gets everything right.

What we have here is maybe the visually impressive film ever made; its craftsmanship is so subtle, so under the radar that you start to actually believe Cuarón and his actors filmed this mesmerizing opus miles outside of our atmosphere.

The film begins with a nearly deafening simple title sequence with just white letters on a black screen.  Maybe it was just the Dolby Atmos sound system in the theater I caught a screening in, but my ears were throbbing within the first thirty seconds.  It’s all part of keeping you off-kilter, though, as that blasting soon gives way to absolute silence as the film shows a space shuttle coming closer and closer.  As the camera pans nearer to it we start to hear the blips of radio transmissions between the astronauts working on the Hubble telescope and Houston back on earth.

In a seamless tracking shot that lasts nearly fifteen minutes, the camera floats up, down and around the action where Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Heat, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) works away and retiring space veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, The Descendants) goofs around trying to beat a record time for longest space walk.  The tranquility of these early moments is not long-lasting, though, as Houston alerts the crew that debris from a Russian satellite is heading their way.  With no time to escape, Stone and Kowalski can only brace for impact as the wreckage destroys their ship and transport back home.

That’s pretty much exactly what the numerous trailers for Gravity have shown you so far and those that think they’ve seen it all have only skimmed the surface because this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the 91 minute film.  What follows is primarily Stone’s story of survival as she works with Kowalski (at one point the two are tethered together) to find a way to safety.  It makes no sense to reveal any more, it’s not that the film is dependent on keeping a review spoiler-free but I can’t imagining seeing the film knowing how it was all going to turn out because at several points I wasn’t sure where it was headed.

Though the central set-up and a few late in the day personal elements are thrown in are somewhat contrived, it doesn’t lessen the overall impact the film will have on you.  On the other hand, while the film is a visual marvel it doesn’t fall back on its effects to cover up any weak points in the script.  There’s a justified nature to almost everything that happens here and it’s completely involving, and endlessly engaging.

Originally slated to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr., Cuarón wound up with Bullock and Clooney and Gravity is all the better for it.  Clooney brings his usual charisma front and center for his role and even if it’s a part the actor could play in his sleep, the way he supports Bullock shows what a true movie star he is.  .

Many people still can’t get over the Bullock bested Meryl Streep for the Best Actress Oscar for her work in The Blind Side but I still say that Julie and Julia was not a movie that Streep was destined to win for.  Bullock’s award was well earned and she hasn’t been touched by the Best Actress Curse (hello, Halle Berry!) in her selective roles since.  Her performance here is surely going to earn another trip to the Oscars and she’s a considerable contender for the award (though as of now I still believe it’s going to go to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine) and there’s no question she deserves the nomination.  It’s a inspired flesh and blood performance with a lot of guts – the actress has a breathtaking sequence where she sheds her space suit and just floats silently spinning.  Cuarón isn’t afraid to let this sequence play on and for Bullock’s vulnerability to be seen at its maximum potential.  Bravo to both for some seriously incredible work.

Count on this film to nab every single technical Oscar this year because the cinematography, visual effects, and sound design are jaw-dropping.  The views of space of flawless and seamless with not a shoddy cell on display.  I also appreciated the understated but powerful score by Steven Price.  Cuarón and his son Jonas created the screenplay for this and minor quibbles aside, it’s a lean story that’s merely a set-up for the performances and visuals to thrive.  A truly landmark achievement.

Gravity is one of those movies that you simply must see in the theater.  I saw it in 3D and would recommend it for Cuarón’s restrained use of the technology coupled with a brilliant sound design.  It’s worth the upgrade, without question.

Though it’s been several weeks since I’ve seen the film, multiple moments/sequences still are running around in my brain and I can’t wait to see it again.  It took my breath away the first time I saw it and I hope you have the same experience when you take it in as well.  One of the best films of the year and one of the best movies from a technical standpoint ever made.

Movie Review ~ The Heat

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn is paired with testy Boston cop Shannon Mullins in order to take down a ruthless drug lord. The hitch: neither woman has ever had a partner — or a friend for that matter

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport

Director: Paul Feig

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: I recall the first time I saw the trailer for The Heat and marveled at how two and a half minutes could go back without a single laugh for a film that was supposedly a comedy.  Then positive early buzz had Twentieth Century Fox move it from an early spring opening to a prime June release date, so I was curious to see if the buddy cop film with two proven comedic stars (albeit adept at very different styles of comedy) partnering with the director of the wildly successful Bridesmaids may have just made a bad first impression.

Turns out it pays to trust your gut because The Heat is a barely lukewarm summer bummer, a movie that probably started out with potential but is unfortunately sacked by copious amounts of overstuffing an ungainly turkey of a film.  Don’t be fooled by the cleverly cut TV spots and trailers that suggest a laugh a minute comedy awaits all those that shell out their dough because the film itself is a chore to get through.

Perhaps knowing that the movie was rushed into production to accommodate Melissa McCarthy’s other commitments provides some context to why the film feels only half thought out.  I’m wondering if the script from television writer Kate Dippold (Parks and Recreation) didn’t start out as something more interesting because the movie seems to have been tailored to cater to McCarthy’s gruff comedic instincts and tweaked to make room for Bullock’s star wattage.

The film wants to have it both ways – it so desperately wants to be a hilarious genre re-defining buddy/cop picture while retaining a gritty edge with bloody violence.  The trouble is that it’s not funny enough to stand on its own and not gritty enough to be salvageable as a hybrid comedy-thriller.  Instead it’s a middle of the road affair with Bullock and McCarthy lost among the chaos.  All the cinematic chefs in the world couldn’t make this oil and water concoction palatable even though the recipe is right in front of them.

Though McCarthy has shown up in several movies where her improv skills have been a highlight, (The Hangover Part III, This is 40) in The Heat she lets her ad-libs get the better of her and the result is akin to the feeling of being at a bad sketch comedy show where the performer can’t right her sinking, laughless ship.  Her early scenes are so achingly bad and long that I half wondered if Judd Apatow didn’t direct the film instead of Paul Feig.

Worse is Bullock, so out of her element that she’d need a map to find her way into a joke and a compass to get herself out of it.  I like Bullock and probably appreciate her dramatic turns more than anything lately (I’m very much looking forward to Gravity, arriving later this year) but she does herself no favors here, resisting the wise idea to simply play her Special Agent as the straight (wo)man to McCarthy’s foul-mouthed Boston cop.

That’s another thing that bothered me about the film and only goes to show you how many opportunities were missed in the quick shooting schedule.  Though McCarthy is supposedly a dyed-in-the-wool Bostonian with a comically stereotypically family, there’s not a hint of an accent on her.  So at a dinner scene where her family (including the woefully underused Jane Curtain) is laying the accent on thick, when McCarthy chimes in she sounds like a visitor from Idaho.

The less said about the supporting cast, the better with not one person coming close to anything resembling a committed performance.  That’s largely due to the bi-polar script that feels as if it was either entirely made up or written scene-by-scene by different local comedians.  Did no one read, really read, this script?  It’s so formulaic and obvious that you could watch the first five minutes of the film and probably write verbatim the denouement of the bad guy and also the final scene between McCarthy and Bullock.

The few bright spots in the movie come from McCarthy…because even firing blanks she occasionally hits her target when the movie allows her to infuse the character with a little sensitivity and heart.  That’s where McCarthy really gets to shine and come alive…when she’s shown as vulnerable and layered.  Bridesmaids was smart in that it allowed this element to come out naturally but in The Heat it’s forced out in a way that’s no lasting fun for anyone.

There’s talk of The Heat 2 being fast tracked by the studio and if that’s the case, I fear what may await us.  I can only hope that any further adventures involving McCarthy and Bullock are better crafted than the cheap looking mess masquerading as a summer blockbuster.  Both actresses are better than this…you know it, I know it, and (worst of all) they know it.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gravity

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Synopsis: Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.

Release Date:  October 4, 2013

Thoughts: As is proven by my enthusiastic reviews for Prometheus and Oblivion, I love a good space flick so I’ve had Gravity on my radar for some time.  Originally meant to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr., director Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D space thriller signed Oscar winners Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and George Clooney (The Descendants) to suit up in their place.  Though this type of film is arguably outside Bullock’s comfort zone, I’m anticipating good things from her when paired with Clooney.  This will be a curious film for most people with only the two leads on screen for the entire film – but this trailer is an impressive whetting of our whistle until we can see the finished product in October.