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James Franco & Anne Hathaway to Host The 83rd Annual Academy Awards

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The big news today was that James Franco and Anne Hathaway have been chosen to host the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

Deadline broke the news this morning and the Academy later confirmed the news. This is definitely an out of left field choice, and an obvious play by the Academy to reach out to younger viewers. I’m not sure that Franco and Hathaway are big enough stars to attract a youthful viewership. Regardless, I’m looking forward to see what the two of them can bring to the hosting gig.

Franco and Hathaway are both incredibly talented performers and at least one of them, Franco, has a real shot of being nominated. Franco, in my opinion, is a lock for a Best Actor nomination for “127 Hours.” It would certainly be an interesting dynamic to see a nominated actor host the show itself. The last time an Oscar nominee hosted the show was Paul Hogan, for co-writing “Crocodile Dundee” in 1986.

I just hope that this upcoming Oscars telecast is a better put together show than last year’s debacle.

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AFI Fest 2010 Review: The Fighter

November 18, 2010 1 comment

During AFI Fest last week, Mark Wahlberg spoke before the start of the world premiere of “The Figher” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Walhberg spoke about how much of a passion project this film was for him. The film had gone through a long development phase before finally getting made. At one point, Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct, and Matt Damon and Brad Pitt at one point attached to star alongside Wahlberg. After many false starts, the film has finally been made.

“The Fighter,” directed by David O. Russell, is based on the true story of boxer,”Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). Dickie’s once promising boxing career is over due to the serious crack addiction he has developed. His crack addiction interferes with his training of Micky’s boxing career. As a result, Mickey is forced to decide whether to choose between his family or his boxing career.

First off, Christian Bale is terrific as Dickie Eklund. Bale has always been an actor who fully commits to a role. In this film, he is able to convincingly transform himself into a crack addict by losing weight, thinning his hair, and turning his teeth green. It’s a very showy, charismatic performance, but Bale is able convince the audience that his drug problem, and love for his brother, is genuine. There is one moment in the last scene of the film that blew me away. Bale is talking about his brother and he has to stop before he breaks down and cries. In the hands of another actor that moment might have come across as choreographed and phony. That one genuine little moment, says so much about Dicky’s character.

The other actors in the film are also very good. Mark Wahlberg may be a little too old to play Micky, but he’s the best he has been in a long time. Amy Adams makes you forget about her sweet persona as Wahlberg’s tough, bartender girlfriend. She brings a surprising level of authenticity to that role. I also enjoyed Melissa Leo’s turn as Walhberg and Bale’s mother and manager. She loves her sons, but doesn’t always have their best interest in mind.

The scenes outside the ring were more compelling than the fights in the ring. The family dynamic was compelling and entertaining to watch. It was really fun to watch the large pack of Walhberg’s sisters go at it with Adams. Each boxing scene is properly set up so that we fully understand the stakes they carry. However, I was never fully engaged in these moments and this is probably due to Russell and his cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, decision to shoot the boxing scenes like we are watching them on a television. I respect this creative decision to keep the audience at a distance.

The film doesn’t have the ambition to be anything other than a better than average uplifting sports picture. The picture’s rhythm and use of music leads me to believe that Russell might be channeling Scorsese. The film kind of falls in the middle of Scorsese’s great boxing picture, “Raging Bull,” and “Rocky.” The film played really well with the crowd and Bale’s performance should land him the Oscar for best supporting actor.

3 1/2 stars

AFI Fest 2010 Review: Rabbit Hole

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I was really looking forward to this film after it played at the Toronto Film Festival and got great reviews. I was really excited to see the film at AFI Fest and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the film does live up to the buzz it earned out of Toronto. It’s a heartfelt, emotionally honest film that features some great performances.

“Rabbit Hole” is adapted by the play’s own Pulitzer Prize winning author, David Lindsay-Abaire, and deals with a married couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), dealing with the death of their only child, Danny. They each have a different way of dealing with the loss. Becca doesn’t know how to grieve. She feels that people criticize her for not grieving properly. Howie is stuck in the past. He gets lost in the memories of his son through watching an old cell phone video of Danny playing.

Their inability to communicate their emotions to one another sends each on a collision course that is driving them apart as a couple. Becca’s inability to grieve develops into a strange relationship with the 17-year-old boy, Jason (Miles Teller), who drove the car that killed her son. Howie flirts with cheating with Gabby (Sandra Oh), who he meets during a weekly meeting of grieving parents who have lost a child.

The performances all around are pretty damn good. Nicole Kidman gives her best performance in years. She completely sells this complicated woman who is struggling with life without her child. She expresses anger at those who feel she isn’t coping properly or to those people who try to comfort her. This puts her directly in conflict with her own mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest) and sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard). Kidman’s only level of comfort comes from the relationship she develops with Miles Teller’s character. It’s not a relationship built on anger toward the person who killed her son, but one built on empathy and the regret that both feel.

Aaron Eckhart is also a standout. When he feels that Kidman is trying to erase memories of their son, his rage is full of genuine pain. When the two of them clash, the tension is so real, it feels like we are standing right in the room with them. Dianne Wiest delivers some good humor and warmth as Kidman’s mother. Wiest has a great moment in the basement of the house when she gives her daughter some honest advice on how hard it is to move on after the loss of a child.

The director, John Cameron Mitchell, doesn’t overplay the drama that is inherent in this kind of material. It never dwells into melodrama. I applaud the cast and crew for making the emotions in this story feel real. The film is all about choices and the choice that Kidman and Echkart’s characters make in the end is true to the story.

The film isn’t just filled with heartbreak, but with a lot of humor and warmth. The audience clearly connected with the film and laughed and cried with the picture. It should garner serious award consideration for the cast during awards season.

4 stars

AFI Fest 2010 Review: Putty Hill

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I caught up with this independent film at this year’s AFI Fest, which is presented by Audi, in case you were wondering. It’s always a treat when you walk into a film not knowing anything about it and come out wanting to know all about it.

“Putty Hill,” directed by Matthew Porterfield, focuses on a family in a poor Baltimore community together after the death of one of their own, Cory, due to a drug overdose. The main storyline, if one can be pointed out in the film, follows Sky Ferreira as Jenny. She has come back to stay with her estranged father while they wait for the funeral.

The film is a combination of traditional narrative and has documentary elements thrown in. The film shows us how each family and friend of Cory react after his death. These scenes are like little vignettes in the story. There is not real traditional conflict in any of these scenes. What we do have is an unknown voice coming off-screen and talking to the characters about Cory.

There is a real authenticity that Porterfield brings to the screen. Almost all the actors in the film are non professional. They were so good, I thought that these people must be the real deal, and this must be a documentary. The dialogue is really poignant and more honest than any screenwriter could manufacture. I especially liked the simple wisdom coming from Jenny’s grandmother during one scene where she talks to her daughter about not going to Cory’s funeral.

The only moment in the film that feels out-of-place is when Jenny has a confrontation with her father, a tattoo artist. It’s a traditional conflict between father and daughter that we’ve seen before in other movies. The scene is at least wonderfully shot and composed by the film’s cinematographer, Jeremy Saulnier. Portfield and Saulnier are great at framing the action and letting a lot of the scenes play out in one take.

Poterfield has a great sense of how to a the story visually. By letting the camera simply show us these people’s lives, we get a good sense of who these people are, and the troubles they face in their daily lives.

4 stars

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