Monday 16 December 2013

12 Years a Slave in Tibet

Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)

I procrastinated about going to see 12 Years a Slave in Tibet because I had a feeling it was going to be boring. 
My wife gave me fair warning as I was umming and ahing about whether to go.
“Your daughter went to see it the other day” she remarked, as I put on my coat.
My wife accompanied the, ‘uh’ with a shrug.
“What does ‘uh’ mean…?” I replied, mimicking the shrug.
I found out about 5 hours into the movie.

There’s plenty of ‘uh’ in 12 Years a Slave. The main problem is that the tale is just so grim, it’s hard to watch.  Especially certain scenes.  Yikes, I doubt even the Passion of The Christ had a whipping scene as graphic as the one here. Director Steve McQueen gives us virtually nothing to lighten up the mood.  Even Brad Bitt’s inexplicable appearance does little to raise a smile.

And, as if to accentuate the agony, half way through the movie McQueen sees fit to give us a wailing woman – a stolen slave, torn from her children by a dastardly slave trader - who was also the bloke from Barney’s version (why do Director’s insist on recycling actors we know from other movies?  ‘Hey look, that bloke selling those two sobbing children is Doctor Doolittle!’). 

The wailing woman sobs for 15 minutes in the middle of the movie as if begging us to leave (to be fair, lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor does tell her to shut up).

Another issue with the movie is the long silences.  Those Tarantino like cinematic indulgences where we get to stare at a field full of cotton, blowing in the wind for 20, 30, 40 seconds…
What’s going on…?

You can’t create awe on demand.  Awe has to be earned. 

12 Years a Slave in Tibet isn’t quite ‘Awe’ful but it’s not quite awe inspiring either.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Life 2.0

Bullseyes:  ④ (out of 5)

Some documentaries are f***ed up.  Life 2.0 is one of them.  The movie follows the online antics of four sad sap url addicts who while away their wasted lives playing the popular virtual reality game, ‘Second Life’.

Up first is a bored housewife looking for…something.  A recent divorcee from Calgary is happy to give it to her.  And give it to her he does.  Over and over and over… Christ.  I’ve never seen animated sex before but watching these two grind their invisible organs together while moaning in imagined ecstasy is anything but erotic. 

‘Asri’ is a chirpy, well rounded young lassie who rarely sees the sun, trapped as she is in her underground compound building her imaginary fashion empire which – believe it or not – actually makes her money! (Real money!  Over 6 figures some years…).  Asri is the most loveable of the featured subjects, partly because she appears to be genuinely talented and she does at least make the effort to get out of the house and go and meet her avatar alter-ego amigos.

‘Ayya’ is the  wackiest of the bunch.  A 30 something web designer who’s fiancée mopes upstairs in the kitchen while he ignores her in favour of his online imitation which just happens to be – an 11 year old girl…?


In the end Life 2.0 confirms something I have long suspected: we humans are seriously f****d up.

Captain Phillips

Bullseyes:  ④ (out of 5)

For a man who said, ‘Stoopid is as stoopid does’ it’s hard to believe that Tom Hanks or anyone else would consider floating down the Somalia coastline with a boat full of goodies.  But that’s exactly what he does!

Captain Phillips follows the travails of Tom and the rest of his container ship’s crew as they navigate the treacherous waters off the Somalia coast and run, inevitably, into a band of dastardly pirates.


But, instead of just grabbing the booty, tying the deck hands to the mizzenmast and making Hanks walk the plank, these pirates are greedy for more plunder and decide to take poor Tom hostage. 

Run Forrest run!

This movie is all about the tension.  Action, standoffs and tension.  Then more tension… aaah!  I can barely stand it.  In fact it’s a relief when it’s all over, especially for Hanks whose understated yet authentic reaction at the end is about as good as it gets.  


Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)

I was a little up in the air about watching the latest Alfonso Cuarón blockbuster flick, but seeing that my wife was feeling a little down after a hard day at work I decided to give this movie a whirl.  Hold on, give it a whirl?  That phrase doesn’t make sense… Oh come on - how many gravity puns do you think there are?  I’d like to see you do any better…

Anyway I was hoping I would not be too enthused by this epic so that I could say something about it never getting off the ground.  Or perhaps tell the director to come back down the earth.  But, alas, it was actually pretty good so I’ll have to save these killer puns for another movie review (perhaps one about, ‘The Void’ starring Bruce Willis as a jet pilot who flies too high, or maybe ‘Goodbye Moon’:  Nuke misfire blows up the moon and the earth’s gravity ebbs away…(Christ I should be pitching these to Ridley Scott, they are Gold!))

Gravity is a movie about Sandra Bullock grunting inside a spacesuit.  It starts with her gasping as she works to fix something complicated outside the space station, and progresses to panting and grunting as she floats away into oblivion.  George Clooney keeps her grunting company for a while until he remembers that he’s paid mainly for his good looks and you can’t see him inside a spacesuit so he dutifully drifts off into another movie (Spoiler alert! Wait, too late.  Sorry!)

Gravity is a concise and satisfying little epic, improbable of course, and not remotely in need of any the big name actors it employs, but a fine movie none-the-less. I wish all the award waffle would cease though – this movie isn’t going to get any big noms.  You can’t get a best actor nod for grunting and there’s precious little character development or plot to push this flick even close to the Oscar sun.  But it will probably get a bag full of technical awards so that’s something.

My only gripe with Gravity is Clooney and Bullock.  Why put big names in here?  In a 3D stratosphere featuring deadly projectiles, burnt out space stations and beautiful planet earth as a backdrop – why do we need Dr.  Ross and that chick from Speed?  Clooney and Bullock almost pull you out of the movie – back down to earth you could say (ha! Got it!) – But, fortunately the 3D effects and taut direction keep our feet firmly off the ground (yes again!) and floating to the inevitable conclusion (nailed it!).  

The Beaver

Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)

When my wife told me we were watching a movie called The Beaver starring Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence I thought, ‘Yes, get in!’  But there was a misunderstanding.  Evidently The Beaver is a manky puppet attached to Mel Gibson’s hand rather than, well, never mind.

Mel is a deeply depressed Corporate Executive looking for a way out (he wasn’t the only one… Once I realized I’d been tricked into watching a one man puppet show I was scanning the exits like crazy I can tell you.)

In an effort to pull himself out of his funk Mel begins to communicate through a discarded hand puppet. A bit of a stretch sure, but, despite the quirky premise and ridiculous title The Beaver is surprisingly watchable.  But not nearly as watchable as, ‘Blonde Beavers Aboard!’ - A thoughtful treatise on the sticky subject of sex addiction and its impact on an overweight ship’s captain and his crew…

Wednesday 17 April 2013


Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)
42 tells the story of America’s first major league black baseball player, MLB hall of famer Jackie Robinson. 
I went to see this movie because forty eight reviewers gave it 9 out of 10 – impressive!  I also fancied giving myself a long lunch break because; well, because I deserve it.
When I got to the cinema I found out that it was $5 Tuesdays. 
Uh oh.
$5 dollar Tuesdays at the Rainbow brings out a, er, different class of cinemaphile.  My row included a decidedly rough around the edges rag-taggle mob of hippies and hoboes.  Not that I have anything against hippies and hoboes, it’s just that they look strangely out of context in a movie theatre.  And they make a lot of noise.  And they smell.  One old girl looked like she’d just popped in from the petrol station out of Deliverance.  And the Doc Brown lookalike next to me spent most of the movie coming and going to the bathroom, or somewhere.  Sitting right behind me was a lively gal with a killer laugh who spent most of the movie giving unnecessary commentary.
“He’s going to hit a homer!”
“Run Jackie run!”
“Oh that’s not good”
I enjoyed the movie, especially Harrison Ford’s character, Brooklyn Dodger’s owner – Branch Rickey.  Robinson and Rickey are given almost equal screen time in the movie the point being, I suppose, that racism affects all of us.  The acting is solid, the pacing tight and the big scenes, for the most part, not over-done.  I did wonder, however, if Steven Spielberg may have had a hand in the movie by the time we reached a pivotal midpoint scene(he didn’t).  The scene, the movie’s best, features Robinson getting pilloried at the plate by Philadelphia coach Ben Chapman.  As Robinson charges off the field and into the tunnel, and starts smashing his bat to smithereens, Branch Rickey slopes out of the shadows and starts muttering meaningful things about racism, life and courage.  At least I think that’s what he’s muttering.  It’s hard to hear on top of the schmaltzy War Horse-like serenade of violins, trumpets and cellos... 
It would be nice to realize a meaningful movie moment for myself without the heavy handed hint of a symphonic orchestra:
Pay attention!  This is important!
Schmaltz aside 42 is a fine movie, and well worth 5 dollars.

Monday 4 March 2013

Searching For Sugarman

Bullseyes:  ④ (out of 5)
I haven’t anticipated a movie as much as this since Uncle Buck in 1989. And that didn’t work out too well.

I first heard about the Dylanesque folk poet, Sixto Rodriguez on a 60 Minutes segment a few months back.  It was one of those schmaltzy TV snippets that gives you tingles despite your best efforts to shake them off. 
‘It can’t be true’ you tell yourself, as the last shot concerto claws the tears from your eyes, ‘Nooo!’
(Just to confirm - I didn’t cry during the 60 Minutes segment, nor did I cry all over again during the film.  I never cry.  Good.  Glad we cleared that up).
But when I learned that they’d turned the tale into a documentary, well – I knew it had to be true! (Unless of course, Ben Affleck had a hand in it somewhere…)
I checked out a few reviews before heading out.  I use Cinema Clock ( a North American web site that brings you the regular folk’s perspective.  Not that I trust regular folk, I mean I’m one myself and just look at this garbage review!  But it beats the snobby critics.  And, to my amazement, Searching For Sugarman scored a 9.2!  Impressive.
So I dragged Susie out. 
Susie didn’t want to go I could tell.  She replied, “If you like” when I asked if she wanted to come.  And then, “Whatever you want” when I asked if she was sure. 
It’s like me, when I say:
“Do you want a hand in the kitchen?”
I don’t mean it but I say it because I’m trying to be nice. 
Anyway, Susie – thanks for being nice.
Searching For Sugarman won an Oscar last week.  But that wasn’t my reason for going, no, no.  I’m not that shallow.  I wanted to see for myself, if this tale of the elusive Mexican 60’s era poet (spoiler alert – I’m going to give it all up!) who made it big in South Africa while earning minimum wage back in Detroit, could actually be true. 
And sure enough, once the credits had rolled I knew it was for real:
Ben Affleck’s name was nowhere to be seen.
The documentary kicks off in the 60’s and introduces us to the early Rodriguez, his discovery and his subsequent failure to make any indent on the Dylan era scene.  We feel the shear exasperation of his big name producers while tapping our toes to his fine folksy groove.  
‘Well I wonda!’
Our journey quickly veers westward, to South Africa, circa 1970, in the clutches of apartheid and a white revolution simmering along to a familiar folk-rock rhythm…
‘Yeah I wonda!’
The movie takes us on a quest.  A quest to track down the elusive Sixto, to discover the truth about his death, his life and the Mexican behind the music.  The journey is a good one, aided in no small part by the lilt and eloquence of the entertaining talking heads (I do love a good South African accent…ah Charlize).

The movie asks the inevitable question:   
“Where’s the money…?”

Sussex record producer Clarence Avant's bombastic no-holes-barred riposte gives us all the answer we need.
It is heartwarming to heed, at the end, what has changed.  Certainly the lives of most of the cast.  But for Rodriguez…? 
Not so much.
The last scene shows him trudging home in the snow and stoking up the fire… 
For some people it seems that life will never change.  And that might not be such a bad thing.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Oscar Ceremony Review

I suppose that in order to review the Oscar ceremony I really should have watched it…? Sort of like the nominated movies themselves?
Well, hey - I did!  Er, almost.
You see what happened was I cancelled my cable a few weeks back so my wife and I had to catch the show on-line.  And you know that never works.  So instead we spent most of the evening staring at the little buffer circle going round and round and round…
From what we did see though it looks as if we didn’t miss too much.  The red carpet show was…
It always is, isn’t it?  That red carpet conveyor shuffling along the hapless mannequins…
Blah blah blah, question?
Blah blah blah, Armani.
Ha ha ha!  Next!
The gormless looking plus ones, rabbit eyeing the camera, shuffling off to the side trying to look as invisible as they are.
And what of the host, poor Seth whatshisname, yikes – what happened there?
I was really rooting for Seth.  I always hope for the host.  I want them to recapture the lustre of Oscars of old.  But they never quite manage it. Billy Crystal attempted to reprise his MC magic last year.  But all he did was confirm something we all knew - his moment had past. 
But maybe Seth could bring back the gold?
Or maybe not.
I missed McFarland’s opening monologue, but when the internet wheel finally stopped spinning we were greeted with:
‘Getting nominated for an Oscar is something a 9 year old can do’
Ha ha!…Uh?
‘The only person who truly got inside Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth’
What was Seth thinking?  How was that Lincoln gag ever going to work?  The cast of one of the most revered best picture nominees – which was little more than a 2 ½ hour adoration of Abe’s awesomeness – is sitting in the front row and you try to burn the man down?  That’s like celebrating the biopic of Princess Di then laughing about car crashes in front of her kids…
The presenters and the acceptance speeches didn’t fare much better either.  The celebs, stuttering through the autocue, squinting at it like a bad smell.  Hey - that’s me you’re cringing at!  And come on winners - at least try to make the speeches entertaining. Christ - there’s a billion people watching! (or at least trying to…spin, spin, spin).
The James Bond tribute was weird.  A fluffy montage followed by a gold-sequined Shirley Bassey.  Sure the old girl can still sing, but yikes – she must be a hundred.  I don’t know about you but old people make me nervous, like they’re going to croak any minute.
We stopped watching when the 50th no name nomination came up.
“And now the award for best make-up effects editing”
“What’s that?”
“No idea”
The boring awards suck the life out of the Oscars.  Nobody clicks on the box to watch a bunch of nobodies.  Unless we’re watching the Kardashians.  Surely the producers know this?  Do they really think we care?
“Darling!  The award for best wig is up!”
“Great, I hope Goldstein gets it!”
The nominees at least, should be aware of their irrelevance. 
‘Just run on the stage, say something funny, and fuck off’ the producers should bark at them, as they cue the Jaws music to start, just as they lean towards the mic…
“I’d like to thank…”
De de de! 
I read a couple of Oscar reviews the day after the show.  The Toronto Star’s Peter Howell lamented the loss of Oscar gloss, then went on to suggest that the ceremony should, ‘be true to what it really wants to be’ which is, apparently, an upper class ape of the Globes. 
The Oscars is not the Globes.  The reason I watch them is because they strive to be something more than frivolous, something elegant, classy - a link to our illustrious past. 
Howell also suggested they replant Globe hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.
I love these ladies but come on - the Oscars demand a little more class.  My wife suggested Martin Short as a future host which I think is a great idea.  Short is funny, elegant, weird and nostalgic – perfect!
Well, whoever hosts the show next year I only hope I can be bothered to watch, because right now the gleam is getting a little lean.  But who knows, if this damned circle ever stops spinning I might give them another whirl.
Spin, spin, spin…
Stupid fucking internet.

Friday 22 February 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)
I thought I’d tried to catch this flick ahead of the Oscars and I have to say it was…OK.  Toronto’s Bell Lightbox didn’t help my enjoyment with their terrible soundproofing.  What’s going on there? 
I don’t much like the Lightbox.  Everyone’s friendly enough but I always feel underdressed and unworthy - like they’re all waiting for someone more important to come along.
‘Enjoy the show sir’ they say, as they look over my shoulder for George Clooney. 
For some reason the wall between theatres four and five was paper thin.  There was obviously a corporate event of some kind going on next door which meant that while Hush Puppy’s daddy was trying to die in peace all we heard was:
“OK everybody question number 2!”
And, as the little girl recounted sweet memories of her Mamma:
“Tony’s team’s in the lead with 25!”
Thanks Bell Lightbox.
Beasts of the Southern Wild tells the story of life in the ‘Bathtub’, an impoverished enclave on the ‘wet’ side of the New Orlean’s levy, through the eyes of six year old Hushpuppy around the time of Hurricane Katrina.  The story is simple, sparse and occasionally engaging.  But for the most part it’s just boring.
I was drawn in by the trailer, in particular the performance of Oscar nominated Quvenzhané Wallis.  Kid actors can be adorable - or inane - in this case Quvenzhané is the former, a real treat.  But, although I enjoyed her innocent take on a hard life I was never quite sure where the story was going or what I was supposed to learn. 
There’s a token effort in the beginning to elicit sympathy.  Hushpuppy’s Daddy goes AWOL so the little girl resorts to talking to a basketball jersey draped on a chair - her Mum - as she cooks up a soup/cat food combo on the stove.  But that tapers away.  And there is some attempt to draw comparisons between the bereft citizens of the swamp and the civilized world on the other side.  Shots of a street party in full swing with moonshine and laughter and kids sprawling and wailing on blankets, and voice over commentary about fancy daycares, push chairs and a way too complicated way of life.  But that tapers too so that in the end, I am never really sure what the movie is all about.
You’d be hard pressed to say that Hushpuppy - the kid who’d been held but two times in her life - has it good.  Sure her Daddy loves her but it’s a mostly empty love.    And what of those ancient beasts?  Hushpuppy faces them down in the end but - so what?  Now she’s ‘de man’?  Strong enough to face the world?  Destined to struggle along just like her Daddy?  Great!
The movie left me with little hope, but it didn’t leave me with much despair either.  I suppose in the end I didn’t care, and when it comes to art - that’s the worst reaction of all.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Oscar Picks!

I have just one week to see the remaining Oscar movies!  Can I do it?
No!  Of course I can’t!
Well I could, if I wanted to.  But I don’t, so I won’t.  So there.
But - why not?  Because, well because - Beasts of the Southern Wild?  Really, what does it even mean? 
Thus far I’ve forgone Armour (too French) and Beasts of Southern Wild (What? Where? Huh?).  Actor wise I’ve no idea what Joaquin Phoenix was doing in… whatever he was in. Emmanuelle Riva was probably brilliant in, er something, and Quvenzhané Wallis was…Eh?  Huh?  Who? 
Well… good luck everyone!
Wilful ignorance isn’t going to stop me shooting some Oscar arrows, so - here goes!

Best Picture

Let’s dust off the crystal dartboard with, ready, aim…


It looks as if Ben Affleck’s sort-of-true story recounting the 1970s American Embassy exfil operation in Iran is now the Oscar shoo-in for a best film bullseye.  But, steady…whoosh,
Every dart player knows that ominous pinging sound.
It’s the sound of arrows bouncing off the board.  Yes, ‘ping’ means only one thing:
So close!
I loved this movie, loved the notch by notch ratcheting up of the tension, the comic relief of John Goodman and that bloke out of Little Miss Sunshine.  I even loved Ben Affleck’s beard.  But you have to be careful when you torture the truth.  A little tweak here and there is OK, but - Jeeps chasing the plane? 
Way to pop the pressure bubble Ben.

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
  Nada!  Ben’s dart is lying bent and blunted beneath the board.  Pick it up Mr. Affleck.  Perhaps we’ll see you back at the oche next year.   

Django Unchained

Django Unchained is another cracking movie…which won’t win an Oscar.  Tarantino’s crimson tinged treatise has all the essential elements of an Oscar contender:  Great acting, great pacing, snappy dialogue, but - there’s just so much gore. 
You can’t underestimate the ‘gore score’ when it comes to making your Oscar picks.  Can you think of a movie this gory that ever got the nod?  No! Oscar doesn’t do gore.  They do war (Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Bridge Over The River Kwai).  And Law (Chicago, No Country for Old Men).  They even do Whore (Driving Miss Daisy).  But - they’ve never done gore. 
So, sorry Quentin.  If you’d like to win the little gold man you gotta clean up your actors (good luck with that).

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
…Plop!  Oh!  It’s landed on 15, just outside the center circle.  No bullseye this time Mr. T but not to worry, the arrow is a perfect marker for your next throw.

Les Mis

Les Miserables got the Oscar nod purely out of sympathy - you know - for trying so hard.  Sort of an ‘A’ for effort sort of thing. 
If there was sympathetic applause for losing movies, Les Mis would get a lot of it.
Les Mis ain’t going to win, everyone knows that.  And nor should it.  The first 20 minutes of the movie are amazing.  But once Ann Hathaway is away with the French fairies the rest of the film d-r-a-g-s...
Oh, God…so much singing, when will it stop?  Christ - is he still alive?  Ug, enough with the Master of the House.  And, what’s this now – a revolution?  God let it be over! Zzzzzzzzz.
It takes a lot to make me sleep through a revolution but Les Mis tucked me in nicely.

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
  Ka-plump!  Alas, the dart has landed harmlessly wide, arcing over the top of Tarrantino’s flight and settling near the treble 12.  A bad miss.  We’ll put that one down to nerves.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is the kind of movie I’m supposed to like more than I did.  But I didn’t.  In fact I liked it only exactly as much as I did which was, well - just a bit.
Life of Pi is good - watchable.  I admire Ang Lee for keeping me engaged when all I was watching was a boy in a boat with a tiger.  But – why pick that subject matter anyway?  It’s all well and good to applaud the efforts of a director who takes a dry subject and wets your eyes but, well – he didn’t have to pick this did he?  It’s like 127 Hours – a movie that feels as long as its name - and Castaway.  You watch these movies and you ask yourself:  How good can you really make a film with only one frame?

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
  Plop…Oh!  25.  Not bad for a first try.  A few more throws Mr. Lee and you’ll hit the bully for sure. 


Lincoln is another critics’ pick and, let’s be fair, another great movie.  But the trouble with great movies that are based on true stories, especially ones that don’t involve jeeps chasing planes, is that they whittle you away. 
Lincoln is dry, as dry as the powder in the soldier’s guns.  You don’t notice the blandness so much at first, ensconced as you are in the elegant trimmings of the 19th century scenery, entranced by Daniel Day Lewis’ exquisite portrayal of the legendary war time pol.  But then the movie wears you down and before you know it you’re, uh oh, is that the time?

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
  Swoosh…Ah!  That was close!  The arrow was swooping into the bullseye bed but then…What?  It swooshed sideways at the last second!  Better check those flights Stevie Boy…

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook is my pick for Oscar night.  Not just because I’m a sap and I have the hots for Jennifer Lawrence who’s cute in a, I’m-not-sure-why-she’s-cute sort of way. It’s my pick because it’s the best movie of the lot (of the ones I’ve seen which is some of them).
SLP feels new – like a pile of clean laundry.  Director, David Russell picks a stinky subject and gives it a fresh spin.  At the end of the film we all feel a little tumbled yet replenished at the same time.

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
  Ooooh – Get in!  Bullseye all the way.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is my Dark Horse contender.  Apparently this movie isn’t supposed to win because it’s too blunt on, ooh!  Touchy touchy torture. 
The torture scenes aren’t overdone and nobody is suggesting everything in the movie is totally real.  Why would they do that?  Let’s face it, when Hollywood turns the page there’s no such thing as a ‘true story’.  Just ask Ben Affleck. 

Bully’s Oscar Dartboard Score:
  Ka-ping!  Is it in?  Is it in…? 
…Bigelow steps up to the board, her eyes trace the line of the tungsten but…oh!  Can you believe it?  It looks as if, just like all those Jihadists stuffed into crates all over the world, this movie has landed on the wrong side of the wire.   

Best Actor
Daniel Day Lewis. 
Because:  Well, because of course.

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz
Because:  I didn’t see Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Why not?  Because he was in The Master.  So, assuming he was no good I’m giving this to Christoph.  The guy is just brilliant.  Tommy Lee might win though because he’s old.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain
Because:  Because it’s not easy walking around looking stroppy for 90 minutes. 

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway
Because:  I didn’t see Helen Hunt or Amy Adams and, whatever - this one’s a lock.  How could it not be?   I mean - Singing in a coffin?  In just one take?  Making me cry?  (Allegedly).  Yes, it’s all over (bar the Susan Boyle duet DVD). 

Best Director

Drum roll please…
‘And the Oscar probably goes to…Steven Spielberg!’
Because:  ‘All hail Steven!’ 
Steven Spielberg always comes away with something.  He’s like that kid at the party who doesn’t get a lucky bag because that ginger brat took two and now they’ve run out so he whines and cries and he won’t leave until you:
Give me something!’ 
I think Spielberg left empty handed last time he was here and everyone held their breath. God help us if they run out of gold toys this time around.

Oscar Noms

Best Picture:  Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor:  Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington

Best Supporting Actor:  Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, Naomi Watts

Best Supporting Actress:  Jacki Weaver, Helen Hunt, Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, Amy Adams

Best Director: Amour (Michael Haneke), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin), Life of Pi (Ang Lee), Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell), Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

Oscar broadcast date:  Sunday, February 24th.
  Enjoy the show folks and, if all my picks are wrong don’t blame me blame this stupid magic crystal dartboard (I bought it in a charity shop after all, hey – half price!).

Monday 11 February 2013


Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)
So I finally went to see Lincoln.  God knows I tried not to.  I’d trudge out of the house and empty the garbage instead.  I’d put on my coat – then take the dog for a walk.  But in the end, history - and the Oscars probably (this Sunday!  Woo Hoo!) – beckoned me in. 
Lincoln tells the story of the 16th president of America, Abraham…erm, I forget his last name. Apparently it’s a true story, but really – can we be sure?  It seemed believable, at least right up until the moment when the jeep started chasing the president’s wagon as he legs it out of the Senate.  No wait, that was Argo.  Christ, all these true stories – can’t we make shit up anymore?
Lincoln centers on the President’s efforts to drive the anti-slavery bill through the senate, bribing senators, telling half-truths…really, it’s amazing how little has changed.  Daniel Day Lewis is uncanny as Abe.  He looks just like him, and, if the YouTube clips I’ve been watching are any guide, his voice and mannerisms are spot on too. 
I suppose you get a free pass when you play a historical figure who died before the advent of camcorders.  Who knows how good DDL’s take really was?  He could have played him flamboyantly gay, with a limp and a lisp, and we’d have been none the wiser.  Except that they probably would have mentioned that in the history books I suppose.
“Lincoln then folded up the Inaugural Address, thanked the crowd for being ‘Absholuely Shuper’ then skipped off the podium like a fairy”
Sally Field is predictably over-dramatic as Lincoln’s whining, over-bearing wife, and Tommy Lee Jones is a stand out as the grouchy Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the Radical Republicans. 
I found myself drawn in close by Tommy Lee, whose character has been pushing for the abolition of slavery for half his adult life.  He gets off the best line in the movie later on, remarking on the infamous vote:
The greatest measure of the Nineteenth Century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America”        
I’m not sure if this a quote, but it neatly sums up the whole movie.
The civil war scenes are scant, a fact I was grateful for after suffering through the slime soaked sentimentality of Steven Spielberg’s other recent war time epic, Warhorse.  Although this time the war is merely a backdrop, Spielberg once again cannot resist ladling on the treacle at every opportunity.  For example, an early scene features black and white soldiers trying to recall the words of Lincoln’s famous Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg (you know the one ‘this nation, under God…government of the people, by the people, for the people...” And all that).  Anyway, when the white soldier forgets the words the black soldier finishes it off.  The scene was supposed to demonstrate unity I suppose, and American pride, but it just made me think about all these jingoistic American’s going to gun shows and wittering on about their right to bear arms.
Another dramatic technique over-employed by Spielberg is of course, his music.  And, while I loved the pulse pounding piccolos of Jaws, and the lyrical hues of ET’s violin sonata, the endless oboes and ocarinas that pervade Lincoln are obtrusive, cartoonish and transparent.  Why do we need a crumhorn and a clarinet while Lincoln is schlepping through a battlefield looking weary?  Can we not just have dialogue or better still – silence?  The endless barrage of bassoons made me think of Lincoln as Wile-E-Cayote as he steps, witlessly off a cliff…
Another petty gripe is the casting.  While every actor held his own and the main cast excel, I have to wonder why Spielberg used a mix-bag of the usual period piece suspects.  It would be nice to see some new bearded faces under those ridiculous hats.  And speaking of newbies - why was the ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt picked to play Lincoln’s eldest son?  There I was, immersing myself in the gaslight of the 19th century White House when I’m suddenly confronted with – hey!  Isn’t that the bloke out of 50-50? 
Lincoln is a good movie but it’s not an Oscar one.  It is bone dry – in the way historical films tend to be when they steer too close to the facts – and it fails to resonate.  When the anti-slavery bill finally passes I realized that I was probably supposed to well up but, beyond Tommy Lees occasional pronouncements about its importance, and Lincoln’s own loosely defined obsession, I failed to make a deep connection.  As the people on screen were crying and cheering – I was busy digging around for a nugget at the bottom of my bag of popcorn.
Lincoln’s strongest parts are its quieter moments, when Lincoln is showing compassion and his infamous common touch.  There is a scene where he is about to decide how to respond to the Yankee leaders who are poised to approach Washington with terms for their surrender.  He dictates a message to the clerks then stops to chat about life, fate – and a 2000 year old mathematical theorem.  After listening to the clerks’ thoughts and recalling the famous Euclid proof “if any two things are equal to a third, they are equal to each other” Lincoln changes the last line of his letter - and the course of history. 
As a subject for artistic inspection Lincoln may well be better suited to a more intimate medium, like theatre.  But for a snowy Monday afternoon when there’s bugger all else on it works just fine.  But it still won’t win an Oscar.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Side Effects

Bullseyes:  ③ (out of 5)
Warning:  The movie may cause headaches, nausea and diarrhea.  Consult a qualified movie reviewer before seeing it.
That’s not true.  I was just trying to be clever.
Side Effects is actually a taut little thriller - not too clever – you don’t need a Sixth Sense to reason out the riddle.  And not too bland either.  It’s just the right dose of mental stimulation for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The movie centers around a female psychiatric patient played by Rooney Mara.  You know her - she’s the chick from the Dragon Tattoo movies.  Not that I knew that when I was watching.  I almost went mad trying to figure it out. 
Where have I seen her before…?!  Arg! 
Rooney takes the meds prescribed by Jude Law, does something bad (no spoilers here!) then blames it on the side effects. 
Nice!  I wonder if that would work for me whenever I stay out too late or get caught ogling…
“It’s the meds Susie the meds!”
We spend the rest of the movie trying to unweave the not so sticky web.
The twists in Side Effects are no so tightly wound.  The plot uncoils smoothly, and unsurprisingly.  This will be a disappointment for smart arse moviephiles like the people who went ‘Yeah yeah’ when Bruce Willis’s wedding band rolled along the floor at the end of The Sixth Sense.  But I was OK with that.  I’m not a genius.  I don’t want to have to take a 258 bit decryption key with me every time I go to watch a thriller.  An abacus will do just fine.
Jude Law is adequate in the undemanding role of the psychiatrist. Rooney Mara is endearing as the sleep walking psych patient.  And Catherine Zeta Jones is satisfyingly smarmy as the Psychiatric Consultant who keeps hovering around in the background. 
Why is she here?  Why does she keep cropping up?  What has she done…?!!
I have to confess I wouldn’t have bothered going to see this movie if there was anything else on.  But there isn’t.  Apparently early February is a dearth zone for good movies.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps we’re all Oscared out?
One reason I wouldn’t have bought a ticket is the movie’s title. ‘Side Effects’ is about as bland a label as you can wrap round a bottle.  Why not choose:  ‘The Placebo Effect!’  ‘Drugged Up’. Or ‘Over Dosed!’?  Hey - at least they have some pazzazz!  I had the same titular trouble with the Ewan McGregor movie, ‘The Impossible’ - another title that tells you nothing and fails to draw you in.
My other disincentive was the director.  This may be Steven Soderbergh's last hurrah but why should I care?  I’m still suffering from 2011’s Contagion. There’s no cure for that.
Fortunately Side Effects won’t leave you feeling drowsy or unfulfilled.  It might be just the kick you need.