Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alice in Wonderland **

Alice in Wonderland
** out of ****

The long-awaited adaptation of Lewis Carroll's famous books, directed by Tim Burton, no less, has finally arrived, although it would seem that it was more fitting for a Christmas release rather than in the spring. This film certainly stands apart from other films and TV movies, but sadly, it is not the best film of the bunch.
You'd think that Burton, the master of the weird, was born to make this movie. After all, it's the most famous- and most beloved- nonsense novel of all time, and Burton has created some of the craziest- and yes, most beloved- characters and films of the last couple decades. The fact that he recruited his star pupil Johnny Depp to play the Mad Hatter should have made it even better. Unfortunately, Burton threw everything he had at this film, and the result is something of a mess.
The plot itself is a red flag that something is off: Alice is nineteen and dreams of Wonderland every night. After receiving a marriage proposal from a man she despises, she chases a rabbit and falls down the rabbit hole, where she has trouble getting through the little door using drinks and cakes that can shrink her down or make her grow bigger. Apparently this is her second trip down the rabbit hole. She first came when she was six, but doesn't remember the experience. Also, the place is called Underland, for no real reason. She quickly meets up with several weird creatures who wonder if she's "the right Alice" and tell her she is supposed to slay the evil Jabberwocky. She resists, but the Red Queen is aware that she's back and wants to kill her, so Alice goes on the run. She interacts with weirdo after weirdo, all spouting gibberish, and the whole time she is convinced it is all a dream. She also has a knack for losing her clothes, over and over and over again, although a new dress always seems to magically appear for her. The plot also involves Alice rescuing the Mad Hatter from the Red Queen's castle, and finding an ancient sword with which to slay the Jabberwocky, a lanky dragon. None of it makes any real sense, but that's ok because the movie centers around its many colorful characters and relies heavily on its active special effects.
First of all, newcomer Mia Wasikowska is horribly miscast as Alice. She plays her as a big bore of a girl, even though she is supposed to defy conventions. Wasikowska shows no real emotions and distances the audience when she is supposed to embrace them as they follow her on this adventure. Luckily, all the other actors and voice actors are entirely devoted to their roles. Burton capitalizes on Depp's Jack Sparrow fame by making his Mad Hatter very similar to that famous pirate. Helena Bonham Carter is fun as the Red Queen, a one-note villain who has a giant head and likes to watch people get decapitated. Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) and Anne Hathaway add nothing to their interpretations of the Knave of Hearts and the White Queen, respectively. Among the voice actors are Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, and Christopher Lee (who is wasted with just two lines of dialogue).
Luckily the visual effects are so good because that is really the film's focal point, in making this land a place we can believe exists. The 3-D is kind of clunky; after all, the film wasn't made for the format, it was converted to it, but it does offer some nice wow-did-you-see-that moments. Humor throughout, mostly in the inane babblings of all the characters, and a rocking closing-credits song from Avril Lavigne help. I would have given the film a harsher rating except that the film is clearly aimed towards children, who don't need their films to make sense, as long as it's entertaining.
I would recommend this film to fans of the books, of Tim Burton, people who like fantastical quirky films, and any kids who might be interested in fantasy.

You can watch the trailer here:

Monday, March 15, 2010

2010 Oscar Winners

2010 Oscar Winners

First of all, my apologies for getting this out so late, but I am kind of busy. Second of all, I would call that a successful Oscar ceremony. Last Sunday, I was watching avidly (alone! Why doesn't anyone I know watch the Oscars???) as the best in Hollywood were awarded, and I think most of the choices were fair, if not what I had predicted. (Fifteen out of twenty-four categories correct. Details below.) Also, I would have liked more surprises. The Best Picture race seemed close at the beginning of the night, but by the end, it was clear The Hurt Locker would triumph over Avatar. And all of the acting awards were decided a long time ago. Everyone was deserving (even though the films for which they won may not have been), but I like my Oscars with some suspense.
The show opened with a surprise musical number led by Neil Patrick Harris, which was essentially one big joke; he sang about the hosts and what the show was gonna be like. Any Harris fans (which would include anyone who watched the Emmys last year, which he himself hosted) are surely thrilled. Then out came the hosts themselves, Steve Martin (third time hosting) and Alec Baldwin (first time hosting and previous Oscar nominee). Their opening dialogue was like something out of 30 Rock, quick and playing off each other's strengths masterfully. They singled out many nominees- my favorite bit, when they simply glared at George Clooney. They popped up throughout the night, but other stars got some laughs. Ben Stiller's appearance as a Na'vi- one of the blue creatures from Avatar- was definitely exciting, but my favorite part of the night was Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr. presenting Best Original Screenplay. ("What does a screenwriter look for in an actor? Memorization.") There were some exciting speeches, including the Kanye-like interruption of one speech for the Best Documentary Short winner, and the censored speech for Best Documentary Feature winner when one guy on stage held up a sign asking people to donate to a cause. (It was to save dolphins, but the Academy does not allow stuff like that at all. The cameras switched away, the orchestra started playing and cut them off, and they were all ushered offstage.) Some history was also made: the first African American man won Best Original Screenplay for Precious, but of course, the showiest win was the first woman ever to be named Best Director.
All in all, a great show and some impressive winners. I still think the switch to ten Best Picture nominees was a good idea, and I think (or at least hope) they will continue to do this in the future, if it will increase viewership and get more deserving films nominations. Here is the rundown of the individual winners.

Best Picture

( ) Avatar
( ) The Blind Side
( ) District 9
( ) An Education
(x) The Hurt Locker
( ) Inglourious Basterds
( ) Precious
( ) A Serious Man
( ) Up
( ) Up in the Air

My guess: Avatar

James Cameron will just have to hug his Titanic Oscars closer, because he didn't get any new ones for himself this year. Instead of honoring a sci-fi epic (that many have claimed has a poorly conceived storyline) and went on to become the biggest box-office hit of all time, the Academy honored a small Iraq war film that ignored conventional storytelling and delivered suspense and sincere character drama. I believe The Hurt Locker is one of the top ten greatest war movies ever made (strangely enough, I think Inglourious Basterds also fits in that category, but for totally different reasons) and probably deserved this win. I still wish more people had seen it- according to a few sources, it's now the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in history. If Avatar had won, it would have of course fallen on the opposite end of that spectrum. Is this further proof that the Academy is truly out of touch with the people? Or just evidence that it actually honors films that are really deserving of the award? You decide.
P.S. I'm still thrilled that Up found its way into this race. I will now officially predict that an animated film will win the Best Picture Oscar sometime this decade. When does Toy Story 3 come out?

Best Director

( ) James Cameron, Avatar
(x) Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
( ) Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
( ) Lee Daniels, Precious
( ) Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

My guess: Kathryn Bigelow

"Well, the time has come." Barbara Streisand (who was herself famously snubbed for a Best Director nomination) presented the award to a stunned Bigelow, the first woman to ever win this award in the Oscars' 82-year history. Aside from the ecstatic Streisand, her gender was never mentioned. She won this award for creating one of the most suspenseful films of the year that sticks in your mind, a war movie that ignores all politics and focuses on the soldiers and the horrific things happening around them. In all, The Hurt Locker picked up six wins, becoming the biggest winner of the night.

Best Actor

(x) Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
( ) George Clooney, Up in the Air
( ) Colin Firth, A Single Man
( ) Morgan Freeman, Invictus
( ) Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

My guess: Jeff Bridges

The Hurt Locker sweep couldn't extend to this corner. Five-time nominee Bridges finally picked up his first Oscar for his raw portrayal as an alcoholic country singer and celebrity-has-been. Bridges may very well have been high during his acceptance speech, but he was also honest and appreciative. My personal view of the win: he was extremely good, probably Oscar-good, but the movie was only so-so. Crazy Heart ended up with two Oscars, proving it wasn't just a vehicle for Bridges.

Best Actress

(x) Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
( ) Helen Mirren, The Last Station
( ) Carey Mulligan, An Education
( ) Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
( ) Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

My guess: Sandra Bullock

Bullock gets the popularity vote, not necessarily the Best Actress vote. Bullock's a great actress, and she was extremely good in The Blind Side, but that movie was simply a crowd-pleaser that wasn't anything extraordinary and should have been quickly forgotten. It's good that she's been recognized for her work and for the best performance of her career, but I don't think she deserved the Oscar. Regardless, hers was probably the best acceptance speech of the evening, hilariously thanking each of her fellow nominees and almost breaking down talking about her late mother. (Also, was Sean Penn drunk when he presented this award? He looked like someone had just beaten him up.)

Best Supporting Actor

( ) Matt Damon, Invictus
( ) Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
( ) Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
( ) Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
(x) Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

My guess: Christoph Waltz

This was a sure thing. Waltz's scenery-chewing, multilingual performance as an insane Nazi deservedly earned him a Golden Boy. The fact that it was his first American movie (he hails from Austria) makes it that much more impressive. His speech was kind of strange, though; I preferred his Golden Globe acceptance speech. Despite its eight nominations, Tarantino's black-comedy war film ended up mostly forgotten, with just this sole win.

Best Supporting Actress

( ) Penelope Cruz, Nine
( ) Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
( ) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
( ) Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
(x) Mo'Nique, Precious

My guess: Mo'Nique

Who could have seen this coming a year or so ago? Mo'Nique's resume is filled with terrible comedies and lame stand-up routines. Her transformative performance as an abusive mother changed everyone's perspective on what this woman could do, and became the most memorable part of that movie. Precious ended up with two Oscars, not bad for a film that looked like it was made for straight-to-DVD.

Best Adapted Screenplay

( ) District 9
( ) An Education
( ) In the Loop
(x) Precious
( ) Up in the Air

My guess: Up in the Air

Precious picked up this semi-surprise win, the first ever to go to an African American man, for adapting a popular novel. The script smoothly transitioned between the gritty real world and Precious' fantasy escape world, and really brought us inside this girl's mind, a unique concept for a movie that's never really been explored before.

Best Original Screenplay

(x) The Hurt Locker
( ) Inglourious Basterds
( ) The Messenger
( ) A Serious Man
( ) Up

My guess: The Hurt Locker

Recently, controversy has arose as to whether the story is actually original or based on real people, but regardless of whether or not you believe that, the movie has created some very real-seeming people that you end up caring about, even if you don't want to. This award nicely complements the movie's other major wins.

Best Original Score

( ) Avatar
( ) Fantastic Mr. Fox
( ) The Hurt Locker
( ) Sherlock Holmes
(x) Up

My guess: Avatar

The Academy did something different and very unusual this year: to present each nominee, they had a group of break dancers performing onstage to a piece of each nominated score. The dances really didn't seem to match the music, and definitely didn't match the story of the movies. It was a good try, but ultimately a fail in my mind. Luckily, it produced a worthy winner in the animated Up, which produced far more than just cartoon music. Michael Giacchino's score was beautiful and heartbreaking, and actually managed to be somewhat memorable. Pixar's latest gem deservedly picked up two Oscars, racking up an already impressive count for this studio.

Best Original Song

( ) "Almost There," The Princess and the Frog
( ) "Down in New Orleans," The Princess and the Frog
( ) "Loin de Paname," Paris 36
( ) "Take It All," Nine
(x) "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart

My guess: "The Weary Kind"

The Academy made a good decision and saved us from watching performances of these five songs. At least someone recognizes how terrible they all are. Well, then again, the winner is a fairly decent song that accents the film very nicely and brings a close to the story. Let's hope this category is better next year.

Best Film Editing

( ) Avatar
( ) District 9
(x) The Hurt Locker
( ) Inglourious Basterds
( ) Precious

My guess: The Hurt Locker

The Best Picture winner usually wins here as well. The Hurt Locker brought the viewer almost unbearable tension and despite some scenes being very long, no one really seemed to notice because it put the viewers in the desert with the characters, in the middle of the war. Tyler Perry presented this award with a big laugh, when he had the producers "cut" backstage to see Martin and Baldwin watching TV and wearing Snuggies.

Best Cinematography

(x) Avatar
( ) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
( ) The Hurt Locker
( ) Inglourious Basterds
( ) The White Ribbon

My guess: The Hurt Locker

Avatar wasn't completely forgotten on Oscar night; the epic film with its epic production values picked up three Oscars, including this one for its sweeping camerawork. Watch this film and get a sense of what it's like to walk on Pandora. This is epic filmmaking at its best, and the Academy recognizes that, at least to a certain extent.

Best Makeup

( ) Il Divo
(x) Star Trek
( ) The Young Victoria

My guess: Star Trek

With this win, Star Trek has gone where no other film in its franchise has gone before: to the Oscar stage. That's right, while previous films have been nominated for various technical awards, no Trek film has ever won an Oscar, until now. It definitely deserved it for its intricate work on the alien faces, most notably an unrecognizable Eric Bana as the Romulan villain Nero. I also find it a little funny that this team also made Leonard Nimoy into Spock again, a role he's played for decades. Everyone knows what that Spock looks like, but they still won an Oscar for it. Well, they still deserved it. Frankly, this extraordinary film deserved more attention than it's been getting, but at least it's got this for consolation.

Best Costume Design

( ) Bright Star
( ) Coco Before Chanel
( ) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
( ) Nine
(x) The Young Victoria

My guess: The Young Victoria

This kind of movie typically wins here: it allows the costume designer to really push their boundaries and create showy costumes without upstaging the actors wearing them, because they fit into the story and demand to be there. The costumes are in every scene, and are as authentic as possible. I just wish the rest of the film were as good. (No, I haven't seen it, but it doesn't look very interesting!)

Best Art Direction

(x) Avatar
( ) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
( ) Nine
( ) Sherlock Holmes
( ) The Young Victoria

My guess: Avatar

Take a look at any still frame from this movie and you'll see why it won here: every detail is planned out, every pixel is Pandora through-and-through. Yeah, it's mostly computer-generated, but it's still incredibly intricate and sucks you in. You believe this world could actually exist with the way it's presented.

Best Visual Effects

(x) Avatar
( ) District 9
( ) Star Trek

My guess: Avatar

The other nominees never even stood a chance. Avatar pushed current technology to its limit, and when it could go no farther, it invented some new technologies to get the vision perfect. Several performances are fully motion-captured- and look authentic and very un-stiff, and there are some kind of visual effects in every shot. The 3-D effects are just a plus, it only redefined what the medium could do.

Best Sound Editing

( ) Avatar
(x) The Hurt Locker
( ) Inglourious Basterds
( ) Star Trek
( ) Up

My guess: Avatar

The Hurt Locker proved its sweep of the awards early in the night with its surprise win here. The best sound effects are for the explosions and the occasional slow-motion shot where sounds must be inserted in. I can understand the Academy being excited about a film, but this category definitely had some more deserving films in it.

Best Sound Mixing

( ) Avatar
(x) The Hurt Locker
( ) Inglourious Basterds
( ) Star Trek
( ) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

My guess: Avatar

Now this is just ridiculous. The sound mixing for The Hurt Locker refers to believably placing the film in Iraq when it was filmed in Jordan; the atmosphere has to sound authentic. Again, there are definitely other films in this category that were showier and put more work in to make the film's sound effects or overall sound quality.

Best Animated Feature

( ) Coraline
( ) Fantastic Mr. Fox
( ) The Princess and the Frog
( ) The Secret of Kells
(x) Up

My guess: Up

This award was preceded by a short film with characters from each of the nominated films being asked about how they feel about being nominated. The attempt was to bring in some comedy, but the Up clip was really the only one worth watching. (I'll admit, the Princess and the Frog one wasn't so bad.) Up deservedly and easily picked up this win for proving once again that Pixar is the only way to go for computer-animated movies. It's the best in the world not only in terms of animation quality, but for storytelling ability and comedic timing. Luckily, this film also has a whopping dose of heart attached. Nothing else really comes close.

Best Foreign Language Film

( ) Ajami
(x) El Secreto de Sus Ojos
( ) The Milk of Sorrow
( ) Un Prophete
( ) The White Ribbon

My guess: The White Ribbon

There is sometimes a popular film snuck into this category, but this year, it's kind of a dud, with no films that anybody has heard of. The winner, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, (The Secret of Their Eyes), is from Argentina and isn't even available in the U.S. yet. How do these films win if no one has seen them?

Best Documentary Feature

( ) Burma VJ
(x) The Cove
( ) Food, Inc.
( ) The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
( ) Which Way Home

My guess: The Cove

Food, Inc. may have been more popular, but The Cove beats it on importance, as it brings to light the slaughtering of thousands of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The footage itself is truly disturbing, and the film is at times suspenseful, a word rarely used to describe documentaries. It may not be the best-made film of the bunch, but it's probably the most interesting.

Best Live Action Short

( ) The Door
( ) Instead of Abracadabra
( ) Kavi
( ) Miracle Fish
(x) The New Tenants

My guess: Kavi

Sorry, I have no real information on the winning film. No one really watches short films anymore.

Best Animated Short

( ) French Roast
( ) Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
( ) The Lady and the Reaper
(x) Logorama
( ) A Matter of Loaf and Death

My guess: A Matter of Loaf and Death

It seems the Academy's love affair with Wallace and Gromit has ended. The under-the-radar Logorama beat it out. This film is a computer-animated curiosity filled with foul-mouthed characters set in a world populated by and covered with corporate logos- real ones- from all over the world and all kinds of products. The film is watchable on its 'Where's Waldo?' quality; every viewing will yield new discoveries.

Best Documentary Short

( ) China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
( ) The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
( ) The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
(x) Music by Prudence
( ) Rabbit a la Berlin

My guess: Music by Prudence

Nothing much to be said for the winning film. The real story here is the interrupted acceptance speech- and the story behind it. Look it up on YouTube, it certainly is strange.

Well friends, another year, another Oscar race, has come and gone, and faded away into history. This year's telecast had much higher ratings than it's had in years, and I think that trend will only increase if the Academy gets wise and not only makes the telecast more fun to watch, but starts giving away the awards to films that people actually liked and want to see get awarded. If you haven't seen The Hurt Locker, check it out. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Did you watch this year? What did you think? I know everyone wasn't as thrilled about the double hosts as I was. Do you plan on watching next year? I love seeing comments on these posts!
Peace out until next year.