Log in
  

Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.


Blogs
Sort by: Title | Date
8 Mar, 2010

New on disc: 'Up in the Air,' 'Precious' and more …


Up in the Air

Street 3/9
Paramount, Drama, B.O. $82.1 million, $19.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and some sexual content.
Stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman.
2009.
An instant milestone in the career of George Clooney dealing with the recently laid-off economic underclass, Jason Reitman’s adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel is topical to eerie extremes — yet also funny at times and always psychologically deft.
Extras: Commentary, a featurette, a music video, and deleted scenes that deliver more entertainment than most major studio releases from last year.
Read the Full Review

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Street 3/9
Lionsgate, Drama, B.O. $47.1 million, $29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.
Stars Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz.
2009.
Despite the inevitable high-test squalor of any story about a 450-pound Harlem teenager being twice impregnated by her own father and left HIV-positive, director Lee Daniels takes some chances with fantasy sequences, occasionally even eliciting an intended chuckle or two. Somehow, it all works and even becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Extras: Commentary with Daniels, Gabourey Sidibe’s audition, a deleted scene and several featurettes full of the usual back-patting, which, in this case, seems earned.
Read the Full Review

Capitalism: A Love Story

Street 3/9
Anchor Bay, Documentary, B.O. $14.4 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some language.
2009.
The swath cut here is wide, even for Michael Moore, and when he’s denouncing capitalism wholesale, one senses that the subject is likely beyond the scope of the kind of movies he usually makes.
Extras: As per usual for a Moore documentary, the DVD and Blu-ray versions come with a lot of extra featurettes.
Read the Full Review

We Live in Public

IndiePix, Documentary, B.O. $0.04 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.
2009.
Though his accomplishments never matched his own inflated view of them, Internet pioneer Josh Harris’ warped mindset can’t be totally discounted, which is what gives this hard-to-shake yarn its tension.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes backgrounders, with director Ondi Timoner relating her own interesting story.
Read the Full Review

The List of Adrian Messenger

Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Universal, Mystery, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Dana Wynter.
1963.
Sprinkled throughout John Huston’s mystery movie are brief appearances by well-known actors with faces buried under mounds of makeup (starting with Kirk Douglas), and at least part of the mystery has to do with our guessing who they are.
Read the Full Review

 


5 Mar, 2010

‘Up in the Air’ Should Win Best Picture


The greatest works of literature tend to have an indelible quality rooted in their ability to present a multifaceted story that both entertains and enlightens. Such classics are bound to mean different things to different people, who interpret them as they see fit.

Which brings me to Up in the Air, my favorite movie of 2009. (It takes this position over Inglourious Basterds and The Hangover, two films that had been perched near the top spot for a while.) Jason Reitman’s third directorial outing is easily his best. And when your first two films are as good as Thank You for Smoking and Juno, topping them is no easy feat.

The setup is simple enough. Professional journeyman Ryan Bingham (George Clooney in a classic leading-man performance) is the corporate hatchet man whose company hires him out to downsizing businesses that lack the temerity to fire their own employees. He relishes his time on the road, but his free ride is threatened by up-and-comer Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who proposes using Internet chat services to fire client employees from afar, thus creating huge savings on the travel budget.

As a mosaic of the travel industry, the only other film I would think comes close to capturing the isolation of living in a state of perpetual motion is Fight Club, which of course only touches on those themes before veering in a radically different direction. (One of Up in the Air's deleted scenes echoes Fight Club's theory of the single-serving friend, met on a flight and then forgotten, so I'm glad it didn't make the final cut, lest it invite the inevitable comparisons to the earlier effort.)

Since Ryan is not grounded, he has nothing to hold on to. His only goal seems to be accumulating enough miles on his travel account to earn a mythical elite status, but can such a journey sustain him without anyone to share in it?

To show Natalie the ropes of their industry, she is paired with Ryan for one last road trip. Along the way, Ryan encounters Alex (Vera Farmiga), another wayward traveler who appears to be a female version of himself.

The arrangement gives Ryan a chance to learn how to care for others, and Natalie a chance to learn about life. After all, life is better with someone to share the experience, right?

Ryan seems more comfortable in the artificial hospitality created by the travel industry to put its customers at ease, which probably forms the core of his personality, letting him remain charming and persuasive as he’s tearing people from their livelihood without a second thought.

In one discussion I had about this film, I suggested that Ryan was a metaphor for the Grim Reaper, given a chance at life only to be forced to understand his own tragic role in the cosmic ballet. The comparison was met with some skepticism, but consider this pitch Ryan makes when describing the essence of his job to Natalie:

“We are here to make limbo tolerable. To ferry wounded souls across the river of dread and to a point where hope is dimly visible. And then we stop the boat, shove them in the water and make them swim.”

Up in the Air is as much about the idea of its characters as it is a story of their lives. The film lets viewers project their own traits onto whichever parts of the film with which they most identify, raising questions but never providing the hard answers. Like great literature, Up in the Air has so many layers you can watch it multiple times and achieve a different experience with each viewing that is just as fulfilling as the last.

Is it a movie about people on the road? Is it a tragedy about a lost soul or a positive message about embracing who you are? Is it about Ryan and his slow emergence from a self-imposed banishment from the real world? Do you follow Natalie as she comes to the realization that life is more than theories and routines? Is it a treatise on the nature of feminism in the career cycle? Is it a buddy movie in which Ryan and Natalie can learn from each other about the holes in their lives? Is it an examination of the role our careers and families play in defining us? Is it an expression of the importance loved ones play in filling the voids of life's shortcomings? Is it the story of harsh economic realities and the people who nonetheless can take advantage of the system? Is it about a quest that is ultimately meaningless? Is it a warning about the dangers of fantasy escapism? Or do you see it as a parable about a world that has ironically grown more isolated despite the technological innovations that should keep us more connected?

Up in the Air is all these things and more, tightly wrapped in a tidy package at under two hours. So many moving parts, yet under Reitman’s skilled guidance they all manage to come together perfectly. At a time when far too many films try to be about a state of being and forget to tell a story, it’s refreshing to see a movie such as Up in the Air that reminds us it’s possible to do both. While individual scenes may lack the bravura of sequences from Inglourious Basterds or The Hurt Locker, the totality of purpose that Reitman has carved from Walter Kirn's original novel delivers more than enough substance to compensate.

Even the extras on the DVD and Blu-ray add something to the equation. The deleted scenes are so good they play like short films based on the movie, adding character depth and additional meaning. (To see all the deleted scenes you have to get the Blu-ray version. The DVD has only about half of them.)

Up in the Air hits DVD and Blu-ray Disc March 9 from Paramount Home Entertainment. Be sure to check it out.

 


4 Mar, 2010

HBO Brings the Blu With a Side of ‘Seinfeld’


HBO Home Entertainment is bringing three of the cabler’s comedies to home video in June.

Due June 8 (order date May 4) is a two-DVD set for Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Seventh Season ($39.98). This is the season in which Larry David orchestrates a reunion of the “Seinfeld” cast to make a special episode 10 years after the show ended. The season-long arc is a great nod to the fourth wall and a clever way around the usual criticisms and pitfalls of a sitcom reunion show. We get all the fun of a “Seinfeld” reunion without any of the overhyped expectations. And it all leads to perhaps the most surreal moment in “Seinfeld” lore, in which David (playing the show’s fictionalized version of himself) actually tries to play George, the character that was based on him and played by Jason Alexander.

June 22 (order date May 18) comes Hung: The Complete First Season and Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season on both DVD ($39.98 each) and Blu-ray Disc ($49.99 each).

The two-disc “Hung” sets include commentary and a featurette. The show stars Thomas Jane as a well-endowed high-school teacher who moonlights as a gigolo.

The three-disc “Entourage” sets include commentary and behind-the-scenes footage. The Blu-ray release represents a first for the series.
 


3 Mar, 2010

Top 5 Best-Picture Oscar Snubs


While an Oscar can be a valuable marketing tool for a winning film, sometimes movie fans are left scratching their heads over which films the Academy chooses to honor as best picture. Here are some examples of the Academy losing sight of its sensibilities.

1.    Citizen Kane

Warner
1941. Rumor has it media mogul William Randolph Hearst cost Kane best picture in favor of How Green Was My Valley. It is now widely considered the greatest film ever made

2.    Network

Warner
1976. This satirical look at media corruption gone wild took best actor, best actress, best supporting actress and best screenplay, but somehow lost to Rocky for best picture and best director.

3.    Apollo 13

Universal
1995. The Academy recognized Ron Howard’s achievement in winning the Directors Guild Award by not even nominating him for best director. Adding insult to injury, the film not only lost best picture to Braveheart, but best visual effects to the talking pig movie Babe!

4.    Star Wars

Fox
1977. George Lucas’ space opera fundamentally changed the film industry, but Woody Allen’s Annie Hall was more in league with the tastes of Academy voters. The debate rages on.

5.    The Dark Knight

Warner
2008. After earning accolades from critics and audiences alike, the Academy didn’t even bother to nominate it for best picture. The ensuing backlash prompted the academy to expand the nominee field to 10.
 

Other Great Films That Didn't Win Best Picture:

Apocalypse Now (Paramount) 1979
Boogie Nights (Warner) 1997
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Fox) 1969
Fargo (MGM) 1996
Goodfellas (Warner) 1990
The Insider (Disney) 1999
L.A. Confidential (Warner) 1997
Pulp Fiction (Miramax) 1994
Raiders of the Lost Ark
(Paramount) 1981
The Right Stuff (Warner) 1983
Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks) 1998
Traffic (Universal) 2000

 


2 Mar, 2010

Go Online for ‘Ponyo’ Plush

<i>Ponyo</i> with plush, available online
<i>Ponyo</i> with plush, available online

Shoppers looking to buy Ponyo, the latest Hayao Miyazaki animated film, could get either a two-DVD special edition or a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in stores. But online presented a third purchasing option: a copy of the DVD with a plush toy of the Ponyo character.

The special package is offered at just a few dollars more than the standalone DVD but is not necessarily cheaper than the Blu-ray. The only catch is that shipping may take longer from some of the brick-and-mortar sites.

The new-release week of March 2 was otherwise quiet for in-store exclusives, with the exception of several promotions concerning the disaster flick 2012.

Wal-Mart offered copies of the 2012 DVD packed with The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition.

Target had copies of the 2012 deluxe Blu-ray edition with a copy of the Discovery Channel documentary 2012 Apocalypse. The set was labeled as a “Special Edition 3 Disc Blu-ray” to distinguish it from the widespread two-disc Blu-ray deluxe edition.

A check of the Barnes and Noble Web site (BN.com) revealed an interesting sales pattern for 2012, with the two-disc Blu-ray actually offered for a couple dollars cheaper than the single-disc Blu-ray. The site listed the single-disc version as a low-in-stock item, in line with the bookseller chain’s reputation for favoring the type of premium product the two-disc Blu-ray version would be considered.

Staying on the Blu-ray front, Best Buy is taking preorders for the April 6 “Lord of the Rings” trilogy Blu-ray by offering a free steelbook case in exchange for a $5 deposit. The deal also includes a $50 Sideshow Collectibles coupon code.

Best Buy also had a display to clear out $9.99 Blu-ray catalog titles such as A Few Good Men, Donnie Brasco and Into the Blue.

The Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif., also unveiled its new Magnolia Design Center Feb. 26, filled with premium home entertainment options such as a 103-inch Panasonic HDTV, projection screen home theaters, patio displays and even the option to convert a home to solar power.


1 Mar, 2010

New on DVD: 'Ponyo,' 'The September Issue' and more …


The September Issue

Lionsgate, Documentary, B.O. $3.8 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG-13’ for brief strong language.
2009.
This is the story of how the September 2007 issue of Vogue came to be, which was financially huge even by seasonal standards. Actress Sienna Miller is one of the issue’s major photographic subjects — the cover personality, in fact. Even she’s reduced to someone who is all but punching a time clock in a chronicle that in several ways gives a Devil her due.
Read the Full Review

Alice in Wonderland

Street 3/2
Universal, Fantasy, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Charlotte Henry, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields.
1933.
A strange movie even by “Alice” standards, it would be a stretch to call this version engaging a la Disney’s animated 1951 version. But it is carried to some extent by its innate weirdness and some captivating décor. This is very good print and a nice mastering job, by the way.
Read the Full Review

Kitten With a Whip

Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Universal, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Ann-Margret, John Forsythe, Peter Brown, Richard Anderson.
1964.
Some movies were just born from the get-go to attain followings – though, of course, this time, the title helps. Ann-Margret’s performance is so extreme that it ventures into camp-ville, yet the twisted star-power she brings to it is the one reason the movie has a trash-lover’s cult appeal.
Read the Full Review


Ponyo

Street 3/2
Disney, Animated, B.O. $15.1 million, $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Lily Tomlin, Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Frankie Jonas.

2009. The latest from revered Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) doesn’t bludgeon us with its environmental message, yet there’s one there in almost every frame — many jammed with enough artfully cluttered visual detail to drop socks all the way down to your beach clogs. While they’re being entertained — and they will be — kids will get the beneficial message that creeps who use the ocean as their private litter box deserve to be, say, booted into the same pit of wolves who munched out on Ernest Borgnine in The Vikings.

This story, however, has a much gentler tone. Sosuke is a 5-year-old boy who lives with his mom (cute when she’s angry and with the voice of Tina Fey) on a seaside cliff where the water licks the shore in arresting fashion that never fails to engage the imagination. Ponyo is a female goldfish, who, after the lad saves her from death, licks his cut finger in gratitude, tastes human blood for the first time and is thus somehow transformed into something close to a real girl.

This doesn’t set too well with her father (voice of Liam Neeson), a driven if generally agreeable one-man ecological police force who patrols the big drink in what looks like old Peter Max duds. He acts as if he has a lot of abrasive sand you-know-where when it comes to polluting humans, which creates significant tension when Sosuke (voice of kiddie Jonas Brother Frankie) and Ponyo (Mylie Cyrus’s younger sister Noah) start to become as much of an item as children this young can be.

A Cyrus connection here? The Jonas Brothers? Yes: the corporate benefactor of each — Disney — has taken Miyazaki’s original work and given it a borderline Goofy touch that simply adds to the movie’s strangeness (in generally a good way).  For this hand-drawn 2D venture, Mr. Pixar himself  — the great John Lasseter — signed on as executive producer. And the credited producers are Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy (the 'A'-list continues), who like Lasseter, give forth with a few words on the disc’s meager extras.

By strangeness — some may rightly prefer to call it surreality — we mean the casting of American voices. Here, for instance, are the pipes of Betty White coming out of a resident’s mouth at the old folk’s home where Sosuke’s mother works — though, truth to tell, it’s probably no more weird than seeing Betty White get tackled on a football field in the now famous Snickers commercial from Super Bowl XLIV. But having Sosuke’s father being a “Koichi” who has Matt Damon’s very recognizable voice — well, you don’t get this everyday.
 


The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Street 3/2
Screen Media, Drama, B.O. $0.3 million, $27.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for sexual content, brief nudity, some drug material and language.
Stars Robin Wright, Alan Arkin, Blake Lively, Maria Bello, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore, Monica Bellucci.
2009. I can’t call this late-year limited release a normal “pick” because it’s the kind of maddening navel-gazer about miserable people that can sometimes give independent films a bad name. But occasionally, a project features enough well-known actors (see Alice in Wonderland above) to qualify as a curiosity. This one certainly goes a long way to consolidate the Screen Actor’s Guild directory: Watching it is like getting one of those annual Christmas letters that friends send out, jamming a year’s experiences onto a page.

Robin Wright, her Pippa character’s story told in flashback, is a wayward teen who married a much older literary figure (Alan Arkin) before even beginning to figure out what made herself tick. As we eventually see in the movie’s one real shocker scene, this necessitated Arkin ridding himself of an inconvenient wife played by Monica Belluci — and if you want to jettison someone with Belluci’s looks, you need to establish that the woman has a shortcoming or two in other departments. Whatever else writer/director Rebecca Miller does or doesn’t do, this one she pulls off.

Wright herself has gone from pure looker (The Princess Bride) to accomplished actress, and even when Miller’s script persists in spelling out every thought on her mind via maddening voiceover narration, you can’t fault her performance. The actress’s later scenes with Arkin — now aged but unable to face it that twilight is here even after he moves to a stagnant retirement home — are credible enough. But only when she crosses paths in a few scenes with another resident’s son (Keanu Reeves, if you can imagine him selling cigarettes in a convenience store) is there anything resembling narrative tension. By the way, if you think you’ve seen chest tattoos, the one Reeves sports here is practically in Imax.

Maria Bello plays Pippa’s speed-freak mother when Pippa is a child — a good idea given that the actress’s physical resemblance to Wright is well within the bounds of credibility, and we all know that Bello can do “harried.” "Gossip Girl" star Blake Lively plays Pippa as a young woman — which is not a good idea because the actresses don’t look enough alike for us to make the leap and because it’s harder to accept that Arkin’s character would have fallen for her as portrayed (not a problem in Wright's parts of the picture).

So who else? Julianne Moore shows up for a blink as a lesbian buddy of Pippa’s aunt; Winona Ryder is a perpetual dinner guest who takes a novel approach to suicide attempts; Steve Binder is one of Arkin’s writers; the recently ubiquitous Zoe Kazan is Pippa’s grown daughter; and Shirley Knight is Reeves’ in all way retro mother, whose character name is “Dot” and at one point actually says, “None of my beeswax.”

Lives has been praised in some circles for its literary qualities, but those who want to travel this road with an emotionally fraught inter-personal story would be better off looking or re-looking at 2006’s Little Children — perhaps the most horribly marketed (in theaters) great movie of the last quarter-century. But Wright is the real deal here, and the movie did get a 68% Rotten Tomatoes rating, which just goes to show how misleading even a must-read Web site can be.


28 Feb, 2010

How to Win Your Oscar Pool

Everyone who watches movies likes to speculate as to the Oscars, whether or not they want to admit it or not. Most of the people I talk to dismiss the Academy Awards as a bunch of elitists who don't really know anything and pick stupid movies to win. But let's get real, as a marketing tool, the Oscars are invaluable, and deep down we all acknowledge they mean something. After all, those same people who like to tell me the Oscars suck are always the first to exclaim they can't believe so-and-so lost, or are so happy that such-and-such won.

And, for those of you who like to partake in unsanctioned activities related to the Oscar ceremony March 7, I give you my guide to navigating the nominees and picking the winners, based on my own observations and experiences of watching these things play out through the years.

'Regular' Categories

Best Picture

The favorite is The Hurt Locker, which has swept through most of the preliminary awards (DGA, WGA, Producers Guild). Though the film wasn’t a strong entry at the box office ($12.7 million), it was limited to a release of only 535 theaters (compared to 2,500-4,000 for most mainstream films). But it has been a strong performer on the DVD and Blu-ray charts, and its early availability on disc (since Jan. 12) should help its profile with Academy voters. Remember when Crash won in 2005 after being the only best picture nominee on disc during the voting rounds?

Of course, this year a number of nominees are on disc by now, and a lot of the buzz lately centers on a late surge by Inglourious Basterds, winner of the SAG ensemble award. The theory goes that more voters have general affection for Basterds, whereas other movies on the list are either loved or not, and with the Academy’s weighted scoring system, a film that consistently earns more second- and third-place votes could sneak into the top spot.

Personally, my affections are torn between Basterds and Up in the Air, and since I most recently saw Up in the Air, I’ve been leaning toward that one. But I’d love to see Basterds win.

For the record, if Avatar wins, it will be among the worst best pictures ever. It’s easily the worst of the best picture candidates I’ve seen (I’ve yet to view The Blind Side and An Education). Avatar may have won the Golden Globe for best picture — drama, but I tend to discount the Globes as a predictor of Oscar success since they have a limited voting pool and quirkier-than-Hollywood-normal tastes. And this year was an anomaly, since the HFPA doled out all their awards to the box office winners (best comedy GG winner The Hangover earned zero Oscar nominations).

It’s worth noting that Inglourious Basterds was somehow left off the American Film Institute top 10 films of 2009 list. In the eight previous years the AFI has honored top films, only The Departed (2006) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) won the Oscar without a corresponding AFI nod. (Slumdog Millionaire is not an American film and thus it wasn’t eligible for AFI consideration).

Prediction: The Hurt Locker, Summit
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds, Universal

Best Actor

The award is Jeff Bridges’ to lose. The sentimentality factor will kick in here, as it has done with the earlier award shows, since Bridges has been around forever, is well liked, and rarely wins anything.
Prediction: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock has won all the other awards, so she’s the favorite. I haven’t seen The Blind Side, but in the previews she seems a bit over-the-top, but maybe that’s because she’s been stereotyped in the cutesy comedy roles. The only reason she wouldn’t win is the kind of snobbery that cost Eddie Murphy an Oscar for Dreamgirls. Otherwise, Meryl Streep will win.
Prediction: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Dark Horse: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Actor

This seems to be a lock for Christoph Waltz as the Nazi baddie in Inglourious Basterds. He clinched the Oscar in the first five minutes of the movie, and the rest is just candy.
Prediction: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress

I questioned how someone who broke up their name with an apostrophe would win an Oscar, but after seeing Precious I understand the hype. Mo’Nique’s character may be detestable, but the actress plays her with so much conviction and against type it’s impossible for voters not to take notice.
Prediction: Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Director

The Academy will not sacrifice a chance at history, especially when the nominee is deserving. Kathryn Bigelow will become the first woman to win best director.
Prediction: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Original Screenplay

This is a tricky one. The two that stand out are The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds. Screenplay is sometimes seen as a consolation prize, so the Academy could give this award to the movie that doesn’t win best picture, if it is indeed between Hurt Locker and Basterds. Since I picked Locker to win best picture, I’ll take Quentin Tarantino here, but if you don’t have Hurt Locker winning best picture, you may want to take it in this category, or to hedge your bets, pick Hurt Locker in both. Hurt Locker also won the Writers Guild Award in this category. A long shot is A Serious Man, with the Coen Brothers swinging serious cred at awards time.
Prediction: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Dark Horse: The Hurt Locker or A Serious Man

Adapted Screenplay

This is an easy call. Since Up in the Air will be shut out of the other major categories after spending the early part of the awards season as the frontrunner, the Academy will have no trouble giving Jason Reitman an Oscar for adapting Walter Kirn’s novel. Sheldon Turner shares the credit for penning an early draft of the script.
Prediction: Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Animated Feature Film

OK, this one seems like an easy call. Since Up was also nominated for best OVERALL picture, it seems like a no-brainer to take this category. In fact, if a nominee in this category is nominated for the bigger prize as well, is there really a need for the formality of this category at all?
Prediction: Up, Disney/Pixar

Original Score

The Academy has tended to defy logic in the music category the past few years, honoring quirky scores by composers nobody has heard of. This year seems to be a departure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see James Horner win for Avatar, but I think the frontrunner is Michael Giacchino for Up, which already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and a Grammy in the category.
Prediction: Michael Giacchino, Up
Dark Horse: James Horner, Avatar; Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Original Song

The Princess and the Frog has two songs here, neither of which I consider the best of the movie. Of the two that are nominated, I think “Down in New Orleans” has the best chance in a category Disney once owned, but I suspect the statuette will go to “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart to cap off the Bridges win for actor.
Prediction: The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
Dark Horse: “Down in New Orleans,” The Princess and the Frog

Documentary Feature

Prediction: The Cove
Dark Horse: Food Inc.
(Hollywood loves advocacy films)

Foreign-Language Film

Prediction: The White Ribbon, Germany
(It seems to have the most exposure, but to vote in this category, members have to sit and watch all five nominees, so if you haven’t seen ’em, pick ’em.)

Other Categories

Cinematography

Prediction: The Hurt Locker
Dark Horse: Avatar

Film Editing

Prediction: The Hurt Locker

Makeup

Prediction: Star Trek

Costume Design

Prediction: The Young Victoria

Visual Effects
Art Direction
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing

Prediction: Avatar
(cleaning up the technical categories)

Short Subjects

I know nothing of these movies, so your guess is as good as mine. These are usually tie-breaker categories in most Oscar pools, since it’s blind stinking luck if you manage to pick a winner.

Documentary Short

The first rule is to look for the movies about the Holocaust. Since there aren’t any this year, I’ll go with the one about the Chinese earthquake, which resonates with the recent disaster in Haiti.
Prediction: China’s Unnatural Disaster

Live-Action Short

No idea, so go with the one about Chernobyl.
Prediction: The Door

Animated Short

Prediction: A Matter of Loaf and Death
(Wallace & Gromit always win this category)

For a complete list of nominees, visit oscars.org.

So there you have it. Going into this year's Oscars, it seems to be the easiest ceremony to predict in a while. But if I'm wrong, then hey, what do I know?

 


28 Feb, 2010

Picking the Oscars: 2010 Edition

With the single exception of missing Around the World in 80 Days’ best picture win for 1956 — this is what you get for mouthing off to your fourth-grade teacher and being forbidden by your parents to watch the show — I have seen every Academy Awards presentation since the 1954 gala.

And what a gala it was: Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, Walt Disney, Elia Kazan, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Dandridge, emcee Bob Hope trading insults with Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis introducing Dean Martin to sing winning song “Three Coins in the Fountain,” William Holden and (in a filmed segment from Europe) Audrey Hepburn.

Over-analysis by every pundit and his cousin’s brother-in-law — plus the frigid precision of prognostication in the 2000s — has made the evening almost immeasurably less interesting than it used to be, though I suppose one can’t have lived through more than a half-century’s worth of these affairs without having a few opinions about what’s to come at this year’s ceremony, which takes place March 7.  So here are a few:

Best Picture

Am I the only one who thinks Avatar sags some and gets redundant in the middle? I like it well enough, but it and The Abyss are the only James Cameron movies I haven’t been able to go all the way with since before The Terminator (yes, I love True Lies). If Avatar wins, it’ll be among the less distinguished honorees in a while (special effects breakthroughs obviously excepted) — and this from a filmmaker whose manner likely puts off a lot of voters. On the other hand — and adjusting for inflated dollars — The Hurt Locker would be a contender for the most atypical Oscar winner ever and with the least box office. So could Inglourious Basterds (the year’s most self-conscious movie) sneak in there with an upset? Someone advanced this theory the other day, and I’m intrigued. For the record, my favorite 2009 movies were A Serious Man and Up in the Air, both best picture nominees.

Best Actor

Just as Sterling Hayden appeared in more great and certainly durable movies than Clark Gable, Jeff Bridges has starred in more black-belt cult movies than anyone: Fat City, Bad Company, The Last American Hero, The Iceman Cometh, Rancho Deluxe, Hearts of the West, Stay Hungry, Cutter’s Way, Tron, Nadine, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, American Dream, Fearless, The Big Lebowski (which, by now, may have transcended cult status) and The Door in the Floor. Plus three more — along with Lebowski — I personally don’t care for: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Winter Kills and Starman. Plus The Last Picture Show and Iron Man, which are definitely more than cult movies. All this is a way of saying that if Bridges is going to get an Oscar, it can’t help but make me (and so many others) happy for him. I’m just sorry it’s for Crazy Heart, which wouldn’t be much of anything if the actor didn’t elevate it about 500 notches. (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s nomination is a real stretch.) I’d prefer George Clooney for Up in the Air because old-school star power is such a lost art — though had Shutter Island been released in 2009 as originally intended, I might be going for Leonardo DiCaprio because he has the toughest lead actor role in recent memory: taking it right up to the top but stopping at the brim.

Best Actress

Of the 10 best-picture nominees, The Blind Side is the only one that can’t at be all be justified, given that it is, at best, only on the moderately high side of exactly what you expect while perpetually playing to the third balcony. I’ve liked Sandra Bullock since she played the waitress in 1993’s woefully underrated Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, but — as with Bridges and Crazy Heart — I’m in the “anti-Cliff Robertson/Charly” school that thinks a cited performance ought to serve a movie of at least minor distinction.

Though I love Carey Mulligan in An Education (damned good movie, too), I’d prefer to see her in something else before taking the plunge. I’d probably give the award to Meryl Streep — who, interestingly, has become a box office figure in middle age when she wasn’t earlier in her career. Like Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, Streep was giving great performance after great performance two decades ago while the broad demographic that prefers to shell out for the likes of The Blind Side was staying away.

Best Supporting Actor

The biggest shaft of the entire 2009 run goes to un-nominated Christian McKay, who (as Orson) should be getting the Oscar for Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (a movie that sent the dean of American film critics, Andrew Sarris, spinning into ecstasy). Though favorite Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) is basically his equal, there have been a lot of memorably oily Nazis in movie history, but few characterizations of McKay’s caliber when it comes to playing a bigger-than-life figure (no pun intended — and besides, this is the relatively thinner 1930s Welles) we all know.

Best Supporting Actress

My top picks for 2009 were Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air, who are both nominated. Assuming a vote split, this probably clears the path for Mo’Nique in Precious, which would be a fine choice — her character the ironic African-American equivalent of the white racist mother-from-hell harridan Shelley Winters played in A Patch of Blue. And Winters won the 1965 supporting Oscar.

Best Director

Here’s a legitimate set-up for The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow to become the first woman to win a directorial Oscar — so if it doesn’t happen, it’ll be the story of the night. But she will win.

Passing thought: Though the Coen Brothers got a most deserved original screenplay nomination, it’s worth noting that A Serious Man is as directed-to-the-hilt as The Hurt Locker. In fact, I can’t fault the movie on any level.

 


23 Feb, 2010

No BD ‘Justice’ at Wal-Mart

Amazon.com's <i>Justice League</i> Lithograph
Amazon.com's <i>Justice League</i> Lithograph

A Wal-Mart in Long Beach, Calif., has resorted to some interesting strategies in positioning its new releases.

All new-release Blu-rays were put near the check-out lanes at the front of the store, forcing movie fans taking the short-cut through the garden section to cross the whole store to find the titles they want.

However, some new Blu-rays are relegated to online-only or limited-store status, such as the new Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. This Wal-Mart’s usual Blu-ray section in the electronics department was stocked mostly with Blu-ray double features.

The new policy was met with confusion by some clerks on the floor, who lamented that most of the offerings were older movies that didn’t offer the best HD experience.

Other retailers were more kind to the new direct-to-video Justice League. Target offered an exclusive bonus disc with the two-DVD special edition, Amazon.com offered lithographs with the two-DVD and Blu-ray versions for a few extra dollars, and Best Buy gave away figurines of the film’s Owlman character.

Best Buy also offered free Alice in Wonderland movie tickets (it hits theaters March 5) with the purchase of select Disney classics at $9.99 each, such as Tron or the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.


22 Feb, 2010

Head-Scratching Over the Saturn Awards


The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films recently announced its nominees for the 36th Annual Saturn Awards, to be given out June 24 in Burbank.

Granted, this isn’t exactly the Oscars as it focuses on the so-called “geek” genres. And I won’t even nitpick why some horrible movies and TV shows were nominated at all, since it’s probably hard to fill all the available slots (so I won’t ask how anyone could consider “Heroes” for best network series, when even the tepid “Smallville” is a better show at this point).

But why is Avatar nominated for best fantasy film? This is the very definition of sci-fi and should be in the science-fiction category. Need to make room for it? How about taking out Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which if anything is more of a fantasy than is Avatar.

On the same subject, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Watchmen aren’t “fantasy” in the strictest sense either, since both rely on (barely) scientific rather than magical explanations for their flights into the realm of the impossible. (Though why Watchmen and Wolverine are in separate categories is beyond me.)

And how is Zombieland a horror film? Why not put it in the action-adventure-thriller category in lieu of the god-awful 2012?

I probably shouldn’t be surprised. This is, after all, the group that gave Batman Begins best fantasy film of 2005, and then put its sequel The Dark Knight (which presumably would be the same genre) in the action-adventure-thriller category, which it won in 2008.

It’s almost as if they are cherry-picking the categories so some movies don’t cancel each other out (so don’t be surprised when Star Trek wins best sci-fi and Avatar wins best fantasy).

Anyway, that’s enough ranting for now. Congratulations to all the nominees, and I sincerely hope you check them out on DVD or (better yet) Blu-ray. Which ones are available are noted in the list below.

Enjoy!


36th Annual Saturn Award Nominations:

I put a star next to what I would pick, though bear in mind I don’t get an actual vote

FILM CATEGORIES

Best Science Fiction Film
The Book of Eli (Warner, not yet on disc)
*Knowing (on disc from Summit)
Moon (on disc from Sony Pictures)
Star Trek (on disc from Paramount)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (on disc from Paramount/DreamWorks)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (on disc from Fox)

Best Fantasy Film
Avatar (Fox, not yet on disc)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (on disc from Warner)
The Lovely Bones (Paramount, on disc April 20)
The Time Traveler’s Wife (on disc from Warner)
*Watchmen (on disc from Warner)
Where the Wild Things Are (Warner, on disc March 2)

Best Horror Film
The Box (Warner, on disc Feb. 23)
Drag Me to Hell (on disc from Universal)
Frozen (Anchor Bay, not yet on disc)
The Last House on the Left (on disc from Universal)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit, on disc March 20)
*Zombieland (on disc from Sony Pictures)

Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film
2012 (Sony Pictures, on disc March 9)
Brothers (Lionsgate, on disc March 23)
The Hurt Locker (on disc from Summit)
*Inglourious Basterds (on disc from Universal)
Law Abiding Citizen (on disc from Anchor Bay)
The Messenger (Oscilloscope, on disc May 18)
Sherlock Holmes (Warner, on disc March 30)

Best International Film
*District 9 (on disc from Sony Pictures)
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Sony Pictures, not on disc)
Lorna’s Silence (on disc from Sony Pictures)
Red Cliff (Magnolia, on disc March 23)
Taken (on disc from Fox)
Thirst (on disc from Universal)

Best Animated Film
A Christmas Carol
(Disney, not yet on disc)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Fox, on disc March 23)
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (on disc from Fox)
Monsters vs. Aliens (on disc from Paramount/DreamWorks)
The Princess and the Frog (Disney, on disc March 16)
*Up (on disc from Disney)

Best Actor
*Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Tobey Maguire, Brothers
Viggo Mortensen, The Road (not yet on disc)
Sam Rockwell, Moon
Denzel Washington, The Book of Eli
Sam Worthington, Avatar

Best Actress
Catherine Keener, Where the Wild Things Are
*Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell
Natalie Portman, Brothers
Zoe Saldana, Avatar
Charlize Theron, The Burning Plain (on disc from Magnolia)

Best Supporting Actor
Woody Harrelson, Zombieland
Stephen Lang, Avatar
Frank Langella, The Box
Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
*Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress
Malin Akerman, Watchmen
*Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
Rachel McAdams, Sherlock Holmes
Lorna Raver, Drag Me to Hell
Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones
Sigourney Weaver, Avatar

Best Performance by a Younger Actor
Taylor Lautner, The Twilight Saga: New Moon
*Bailee Madison, Brothers
Brooklynn Proulx, The Time Traveler’s Wife
Max Records, Where the Wild Things Are
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road

Best Director
J.J. Abrams, Star Trek
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Neill Blomkamp, District 9
James Cameron, Avatar
Guy Ritchie, Sherlock Holmes
Zack Snyder, Watchmen
*Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Writing
Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell, District 9
James Cameron, Avatar
Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers, Where the Wild Things Are
Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Star Trek
*Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Alex Tse, David Hayter, Watchmen

Best Music
Brian Eno, The Lovely Bones
Michael Giacchino, Up
*James Horner, Avatar
Taro Iwashiro, Red Cliff
Christopher Young, Drag Me To Hell
Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes

Best Costumes

Colleen Atwood, Nine (not yet on disc)
*Jenny Beavan, Sherlock Holmes
Anna Sheppard, Inglourious Basterds
Jany Temime, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
Michael Wilkinson, Watchmen
Tim Yip, Red Cliff

Best Makeup
Barney Burman, Minday Hall, Joel Harlow, Star Trek
Joe Dunckley, Sarah Rubano, Frances Richardson, District 9
Sarah Monzani, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger, The Book of Eli
Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger, Drag Me to Hell
*Mike Smithson, John Rosengrant, Terminator: Salvation (on disc from Warner)

Best Production Design
Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Avatar
Scott Chambliss, Star Trek
Stuart Craig, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
Sarah Greenwood, Sherlock Holmes
*Philip Ivey, District 9
Alex McDowell, Watchmen

Best Special Effects
Tim Burke, John Richardson, Nicholas Aithadi, Tim Alexander, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
John DesJardin, Peter G. Travers, Joel Whist, Jessica Norman, Watchmen
Volker Engel, Marc Weingert, Mike Vezina, 2012
Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, Burt Dalton, Star Trek
Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, Matt Aitken, District 9
*Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones, Avatar


TELEVISION CATEGORIES

Best Network Series
“Chuck” (NBC, on disc from Warner)
“Fringe” (Fox, on disc from Warner)
“The Ghost Whisperer” (CBS, on DVD from Paramount/CBS)
“Heroes” (NBC, on disc from Universal)
*“Lost” (ABC, on disc from Disney)
“The Vampire Diaries    “ (CW, not yet on disc)

Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
“Breaking Bad” (AMC, on disc from Sony Pictures)
*“Battlestar Galactica” (SyFy, on disc from Universal)
“The Closer” (TNT, on disc from Warner)
“Dexter”    (Showtime, on disc from Paramount/CBS)
“Leverage” (TNT, on disc from Paramount/CBS)
“True Blood” (HBO, on disc from HBO)

Best Television Presentation
Doctor Who: The End of Time (BBC America, on disc from BBC Video)
“Alice” (SyFy, on disc March 2 from Lionsgate)
The Prisoner (AMC, on DVD March 23 from Warner)
*Torchwood: Children of Earth (BBC America, on disc from BBC Video)
“The Tudors” (Showtime, on disc from Paramount/CBS)
“V” (ABC, not yet on disc)

Best Actor in Television
Josh Holloway, “Lost”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Matthew Fox, “Lost”
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”
Zachary Levi, “Chuck”
Stephen Moyer, “True Blood”
*David Tennant, “Doctor Who”

Best Actress on Television
Anna Gunn, “Breaking Bad”
Jennifer Love Hewitt, “The Ghost Whisperer”
Evangeline Lily, “Lost”
Anna Paquin, “True Blood”
Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer”
*Anna Torv, “Fringe”

Best Supporting Actor on Television

Jeremy Davies, “Lost”
*Michael Emerson, “Lost”
Aldis Hodge, “Leverage”
Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”
John Noble, “Fringe”
Alexander Skarsgard, “True Blood”

Best Supporting Actress in Television

Morena Baccarin, “V”
Gina Bellman, “Leverage”
*Julie Benz, “Dexter”
Jennifer Carpenter, “Dexter”
Elizabeth Mitchell, “Lost”
Hayden Panettiere, “Heroes”

Best Guest-Starring Role in Television
Bernard Cribbins, Doctor Who: The End of Time
Raymond Cruz, “Breaking Bad”
Michelle Forbes, “True Blood”
*John Lithgow, “Dexter”
Leonard Nimoy, “Fringe”
Mark Pellegrino, “Lost”

DVD CATEGORIES

Best DVD Release
*The House of the Devil (on disc from MPI/Dark Sky)
Laid to Rest (on DVD from Anchor Bay)
Not Forgotten (on disc from Anchor Bay)
Nothing But the Truth (on DVD from Sony Pictures)
Pontypool (on DVD MPI/IFC)
Super Capers (on DVD from Lionsgate)
Surveillance (on disc from Magnolia)

Best TV DVD Release
Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead (on disc from BBC Video)
Torchwood: Children of Earth (on disc from BBC Video)
Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles — The Complete Second Season (on disc from Warner)
Primeval Vol. 2 (on DVD from BBC Video)
*Lost: The Complete Fifth Season (on disc from Disney)
Life on Mars: The Complete Series (on DVD from Disney)

Best DVD Special Edition
Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut
300: The Complete Experience (on Blu-ray from Warner)
*Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (on disc from Disney)
District 9
Terminator 2: Judgment Day — Skynet Edition (on Blu-ray from Lionsgate)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Best Collection
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 1 (on DVD from Sony Pictures)       
The Hannibal Lector Anthology (on disc from Fox/MGM)
Hellraiser Boxed Set (on disc from Anchor Bay)
Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection (on DVD from Sony Pictures)
*Star Trek Original Motion Picture Collection (on disc from Paramount)
The William Castle Collection (on DVD from Sony Pictures)