Monday, February 27, 2012

‘The Artist’ and ‘Hugo’ win big at the Academy Awards

"The Artist" won 5 awards Sunday night.

Copryright: La Petite Reine

The 84th Academy Awards, presented on Sunday, February 26, 2012, was a mixed bag of treats and surprises. Billy Crystal hosted the award show for the 9th time, but his last time to host was back in 2004. After watching his introduction, pretty much made everyone wonder why it took so long for him to come back. Incidentally, the only person to host the Award more times was Bob Hope – which was 18 – so he has a lot more to do to catch up. Natalie Portman said just before the broadcast that she thought the award show was “in good hands” because Crystal is professional, funny and “not mean.”

In true Billy Crystal style, the program began with a montage of clips from the nominated movies with Crystal inserted in each of them and he sang a tribute to the nine Best Picture nominees.

The movie, “The Artist,” not only won the Best Picture Award, but also, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score. “The Artist” winning Best Picture is somewhat of a surprise due to the fact that it was filmed in black and white, is a silent film and foreign picture.

The other big winner of the night was “Hugo” winning five awards including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. “Hugo” is Martin Scorsese’s first family film, and hopefully not last his last.

The rest of the awards winners were:
  • Best Actress – Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady”
  • Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer for “Beginners”
  • Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer for “The Help”
  • Best Animated Feature – “Rango”
  • Best Foreign Film – “A Separation” (from Iran)
  • Best Original Screenplay – “Midnight Paris” (Woody Allen)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – “The Descendants”
  • Best Original Song – “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”
  • Best Documentary – “Undefeated”
  • Best Documentary (Short) – “Saving Face”
  • Best Film Editing – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  • Best Make Up – “The Iron Lady”
  • Best Short Film (Animated) – “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
  • Best Short Film (Live Action) – “The Shore”

 Highlights from this year’s broadcast included a special performance from Cirque du Soleil. It was supposed to show the excitement of going to the movie theater for the first time. Whether it achieved that goal is debatable, but it was truly entertaining, if not short. The other highlight worth noting was a short film that showed footage from the “first” feedback session from “The Wizard of Oz.” This tongue-in-cheek production included Christopher Guest, Catherine O’Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard and others as audience members critiquing the classic film.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One of the Best Movies You Didn't See Last Year

Last fall, one little movie quietly made its way into and out of theatres in a blink of an eye. Very little fanfare was created for this little gem and it’s a shame, because it so deserves it.

Now on DVD, "The Mighty Macs" is the true story about young coach, Cathy Rush, and how she was able to bring the Immaculata College “Macs” to two national championships in women’s basketball in the early 70’s.

Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton) and Cathy (Carla Gugino)
watch the practice. (Quaker Media)
Cathy, (A blond Carla Gugino of “Spy Kids” and “Watchmen”) has an incredible passion to help the all-girl Catholic college have a winning basketball team. Her husband, Ed (David Boreanaz of FOX TV’s “Bones”), a coach himself, would like her to settle down and start a family with him. Mother St. John, (Ellen Burstyn) is responsible for hiring Cathy at a very low wage, no gym to practice in and hardly any funding. It is unclear if she wants Cathy to succeed or not, giving the story a bit of mystery. Cathy soon builds an unlikely group of misfits together as a team, trying out many unorthodox practice sessions along the way. Soon, she recruits the tired and lonely Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton) as assistant coach giving the team the boost it needs.

David Boreanaz of "Bones" plays
Cathy's Husband Ed. (Quarker Media)
The Mighty Macs has been described as a woman’s version of “Rudy” or “Hoosiers” because it is THAT good. As sport movies go, this one is, shall we say, less predictable than most? That might be because the story situation is so unusual or that 95% of the characters in the film are female. Whatever the case, this is a chick flick that guys can appreciate as well. It’s a story about belief, commitment, perseverance, sacrifice, friendship and leadership.

The movie captures the ‘70s without overdoing it. The characters are believable. And here’s a shocker – the movie is rated G, which means you can plop the entire family in front of it and not be embarrassed by any of it. The DVD comes with a special feature put together by ESPN. And incidentally, "The Mighty Macs" website has a free discussion guide to share with your family or friends.

While the film may not have made a ton in theaters during its release and could easily be forgotten, here’s a second chance to make this sleepy wonder a hit.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cartoon Icon Bares All in New DVD Release

The cover of Daffy's new DVD
Warner Brothers Home Video

It’s been somewhat of a secret, but Warner Brothers latest release, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” comes with an extra. Right after the coming attractions and just before the big film, audiences are being treated to an all new Daffy Duck cartoon in 3D. Besides being filmed in 3D, what makes this short so special is that it voiced by Mel Blanc. Blanc was the original voice master of many WB characters including Bugs, Tweety, Porky and Elmer. He passed away in 1989, but since that time, the studio discovered a recording Blanc had made for a children’s album back in the early 1950’s. Someone had the brilliant idea of using the audio from the album and creating a new cartoon, “Daffy’s Rhapsody.” It is reminiscent of the golden years of Looney Tunes cartoons.

For those who saw the new cartoon and are pining for more, you’ll be happy to know that Warner Video has recently released, “The Essential Daffy Duck.” The collection features 21 cartoons about Daffy starting from his very first starring role in 1937 in “Porky’s Duck Hunt” (When the cartoon world was in black and white) to his more recent role as Duck Dodgers. By watching each cartoon, you get a glimpse on how much he has changed over the years. In Daffy’s early days, he was just plain crazy crying “woo-hoo” while jumping and down every which way. His eyes didn’t even line up straight. As the years went on, he became less crazy but more cranky.

Daffy continued to be in cartoons on a regular basis and some say he had his “peak” between 1953-1964. However, the duck suffered setbacks between 1965-1968 when the studio began to outsource their cartoon shorts to another studio that had cheaper production values. His last cartoon, “See Ya Later Gladiator” is often cited as the worst cartoon made by Warner Brothers.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Daffy, like many of his onscreen friends, went through some awkward years. The studio created new television specials with new animation spliced between clips of classic and more superior animation with less than stellar results.

To celebrate Daffy’s 50th birthday in 1987, Daffy made a return to the big screen once again with a new short called, “The Duxorcist.” It had the same look and feel of the classic cartoons, but still came across as a weak substitute for the “real thing.”

Fortunately, the studio went back to the drawing board once again in 2003 to create a new cartoon series based on two of Daffy’s more popular cartoons. The end result was the weekly Duck Dodgers cartoon series which featured the wisecracking duck, Porky Pig and Marvin the Martian and managed to create a fresh new cartoon with the sensibilities from the classics that the show was based.

 “The Essential Daffy Duck” is a great way to introduce your children to some of the best cartoons ever made. It is rated G, but the box actually comes with a warning stating that the collection “is intended for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children.” This is mostly due to some of the politically incorrect humor used in some of the earliest cartoons. In addition to the shorts, the two disc set comes with a few special features including two disappointing TV specials from the 70’s or 80’s and a new “documentary” called “Daffy Duck: Ridicule is the Burden of Genius.” It is part historical fact and part fiction about Daffy’s “career” over the years. As a huge animation fan, this was the biggest disappointment for me. I was expecting a real documentary with interviews with animators and historians, but instead, it isn’t much more than a bunch of animated clips over the years.

“The Essential Daffy Duck” isn’t as great as I had hoped it would be; it still features some of the best animated work from Tex Avery, Robert Clampett and Chuck Jones.

Monday, February 13, 2012

54th Grammy Award Show was Inspiring

Adele won big at the 2012 Grammys
With the passing of a mega music star and Grammy-winning artist just one day before this year’s awards were to be given out, there was no way the 54th Grammy Award presentation could ignore Whitney Houston’s death. L.L. Cool J, the show’s host, said it best, “There is no way around this. We’ve had a death in our family, and so at least for me, the only thing that feels right is to begin with a prayer for a woman we love, for our fallen sister, Whitney Houston.” The cameras panned the audience during the unscripted prayer and it was interesting to see who would agree in prayer and those who would not. Still, the scene was inspiring. Who would think that you would hear a prayer on the Grammy’s? The night proved to be full of other inspiring images as well.

One was the tribute to the Beach Boys. Although played down during the broadcast, this was a reunion of all the “boys.” The band has played on through the years, but former leader, Brian Wilson, hadn’t played with the group for over 20 years. There has been much bitterness between band members in the past, but it appears to be behind them now as they start their 50th anniversary reunion tour to 50 locations. They shared the stage with Maroon 5 and Foster the People playing “Good Vibrations.”

Fellow Christian and Country artist, Glen Campbell, was honored with a lifetime achievement award. He performed with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton. Campbell himself sang Rhinestone Cowboy for what may be the last time ever as he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease last year. You would never know it by watching him though. He was full of energy and received a standing ovation from the crowd, except for two obnoxious women who were busy texting on their phones and have received much publicity for their error in judgment.

Later, Christian artists Joy Williams and John Paul White, who make up band, The Civil Wars did a short opening act, (with many wishing for more) for Country sweetheart Taylor Swift’s performance of “Mean.” Probably the biggest highlight of the night was the much anticipated performance of Adele singing “Rolling in the Deep,” her first performance since undergoing vocal cord surgery last year. Adele is truly a class act. She doesn’t rely on any crazy hijinks to get attention. She’s beautiful, but she does have a skinny sexy body to flaunt, she doesn’t dance and doesn’t wear outrageous outfits, unlike the later performance of blue-haired Katy Perry. Not only was Adele’s performance flawless, she walked away with six Grammys and tied with Beyonce for winning the most Grammys in one night!

Other winners worth noting include:
  • Foo Fighters: Winning five awards including Best Rock Performance and Rock Song
  • The Civil Wars: Winning for Country Duo/Group Performance and Folk Album
  • Taylor Swift: Country Solo Performance and Country Song
  • Skrillex: Dance Recording and Dance/Electronica Album
  • Tony Bennett: Pop Duo/Group Performance (with Amy Winehouse) and Traditional Pop Vocal Album
  • Cee Lo Green and Melanie Fiona: Traditional R&B Performance and R&B Song
  • Kanye West: Rap Song, Rap Song Collaboration (with Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie) and Rap Album
  • Le’Andria Johnson: Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance
  • Kirk Franklin: Gospel Song and Gospel Album
  • Laura Story: Contemporary Christian Music Song
  • Chris Tomlin: Contemporary Christian Music Album
  • Betty White: Spoken Word Album 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Journey 2: Not Worth the Trip

“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” is a sequel of sorts from the 2008 movie, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” but only two things link the two together. One, they are both loosely based of Jules Verne novels and Josh Hutcherson. In the first movie, Hutcherson plays Sean, who goes on an exciting adventure with his uncle played by Brendan Fraser. They go to the “center of the earth” to find his missing father. In this movie, Sean is looking for his lost grandfather. (Doesn’t anyone in this family leave notes?)

Sean is convinced that his grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), who has been missing for two years, have found the “Mysterious Island” of the Jules Verne novel. He wants to go there alone (with what funds?) but his step dad, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), won’t hear of it. However, Hank does think that traveling to a mythical island to find or rescue a relative that you’ve never met is a good excuse for some family bonding. The pair meet up with a pilot (Luis Guzman) and his strong-willed daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) and convinces him to take them to the island. Long story short, the plane crashes on the island where small animals are huge and huge animals and tiny. In no time at all, they find grandpa but have to get off the island immediately as it is about ready to sink in the ocean.

As a dad, I see this as a pretty good family movie. It’s clean, well-paced and has a good cast. As an adult, I see that they could have done better. While the actors are good, the lines aren’t and the story is convoluted with plot holes as big as the giant bumblebees. Sean and Hank don’t get along. Hank and grandpa have just met but they don’t get alone either. Sean develops a crush on the girl, but she doesn’t like Sean. None of these scenarios are explained. It’s as if the writers like the characters to throw barbs at each other but forgot to give them a reason why.

The special effects are fairly good, but sometimes the CGI takes over the view. The best thing that can be said of this picture is that it was shot in 3D, so some of the gimmicks really stand out. I guess you can say that the film has a nice message about the importance of family and why it is good to communicate with each other.

What I liked best about this picture was the short film that came before it, “Daffy’s Rhapsody.” This 3D cartoon features Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd in a music hall. Daffy is putting on a show, but Elmer was to shoot him down. Despite that the characters are in 3D form, the cartoon feels very much likes the earlier greats of Warner Bros. Part of this is due to the fact that it voiced by legendary Mel Blanc. Blanc died a while ago, but the animation department came across a children’s album that Blanc recorded many years ago and decided to use that as the soundtrack.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Chronicle: A good example of the destruction of bitterness

What would you do if you could do anything? This is the question “Chronicle,” the new movie with the unfortunate name asks its’ audience. This new sci-fi thriller explores this notion through the lives of three teenagers and is “chronicled” through one’s video camera. Though, not a true “found footage” film, “Chronicle” is similar enough to wonder how much better this movie could have been without this gimmick.

The movie begins in the home of Andrew who is having a hard with life. He is poor, his mother is dying, his father is an out-of-work alcoholic and he is picked on at school. He announces to his dad that he would start to film everything in his life “from now on.” This makes no sense and Andrew is constantly telling others on the other end of the lens that he’s filming. Since Andrew can’t be in every scene, the writers created a female character that is also video enthusiast, to cover the parts of the story that Andrew isn’t in. So much work goes into making the scenes look natural that they end up feeling forced. Fortunately, the story is better than the execution.

When he isn’t home taking care of his mother, Andrew is hanging out with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and new friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan). One night, the three discover a cave which for some reason gives them powerful telekinetic abilities. They don’t think too much of it as first, but soon, they become stronger and learn how to how move things with their minds. They start using these skills to pull off pranks and Andrew starts to show off some of his skills to become popular around the school campus. The three even learn how to fly. But life isn’t completely better for Andrew. His mother is still sick, his father is still abusive and he has few real friends. Sometimes he lets his anger get the best of him and he takes things out on others. Andrew is no longer a “safe person.” Noticing this, Matt and Steve try to lay down some ground rules for using their powers. Andrew more or less agrees with them until he gets ticked off.

Set in Seattle, “Chronicle” isn’t a perfect movie, but it is good story telling. It’s part “Hancock” and part Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, its pace is swift and engaging. Still, the story is too silly to take it seriously. The “teen” stars are really in their twenties, there are some “why would anyone be filming that?” scenarios, some clunky dialogue and unintentional humor. It might even make you re-think about dining on top of the Space Needle ever again.

“Chronicle” is a morality tale and a great example of what unresolved bitterness and anger can do to a person. What could have been seen as a gift to do good for others is soon seen as a way to control people. As Andrew loses his temper more and more, he also cares less and less for others. Bad things can happen to good people, but it’s what we do in these situations that makes us who we are. We may face similar circumstances by no fault of our own. But if we let anger and resentment fester inside of us without allowing something (or someone) greater than ourselves to help us, we will ultimately destroy ourselves.

Though “Chronicle” does have some light moments, it’s pretty much a downer. It’s rated PG-13 but take care before you bring your kid to this movie. It features some language, scenes of drinking and violence. However, it might up the doors open for a great discussion on the way home.

Harry Potter is All Grown Up in The Woman In Black

“During afternoon tea, there’s a shift in the air.A bone-trembling chill that tells you she’s there.There are those who believe the whole town is cursed.But the house in the marsh is by far the worst.What she wants is unknown, but she always comes back.The specter of darkness, the Woman in Black.”

The above poem is spoken in the movie’s trailer, but not in the movie, “The Woman in Black” itself. It pretty much sums up this creepy, but well-made movie. It’s a horror film without any gore. There is little if any harsh language and definitely no sex. Bloodthirsty audiences, who have grown accustomed to slasher fare, will no doubt be disappointed.

“The Woman in Black” is an old fashioned ghost story. Much like one would tell around a campfire. The 95-minute movie is pretty much a puzzle to figure out for the first two thirds of the movie. There is very little special effects or music. Many scenes are incredibly quiet where all you can hear is the wooden floor creaking under the protagonist’s feet.

For those wondering if Daniel Radcliffe is successfully able to shed his Harry Potter persona and play an adult – in deed he does. He plays Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer, still grieving for this wife that died during childbirth four years earlier, who travels to a remote village to finish up the affairs of deceased elderly woman. The woman lived in an enormous house that can only be accessed during the day as the tide covers the roadway during the night. The house holds a secret and the townspeople aren’t talking except for a friendly gentleman named Daily (Ciaran Hinds) who doesn’t believe in superstitions. However, during his visits to the house, Arthur begins to see and hear strange things and becomes convinced that the house is haunted.

As a Christian, I can see nothing redeeming in this movie except for art itself. The acting, sound quality and story is top notch. The photography is beautiful and creepy at the same time. But by the time the movie ends with its unsatisfying ending, one is left feeling empty inside. At least with a good vs evil storyline, you can rejoice when the good wins. In this case, neither side seems to win. Still, it is a good story and if you can see it for just that, you will enjoy this flick. If you faint at the sound of sudden noises or are prone to nightmares, this isn’t for you.