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"Flawless" ***

Tuesday March 25, 2008

I had better luck the next day with the latest vehicle by talented director Michael Radford (2004's "William Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice", "1984", and 1995's wonderful "Il Postino") starring Demi Moore and the always interesting Michael Caine. The story details a fictional 1960 diamond heist of Britain's (and the world's) largest Diamond corporation. Caine plays the building janitor (!) with the plan who enlists Moore, who appears to be the only female executive in the corporation. When he overhears that she is about to be fired, he convinces her to go along with his proposal. Although the plan and its aftermath are completely preposterous, your interest is kept humming along as you try and figure out how this 75 year old dude could seemingly empty a vault full of diamonds in minutes without enlisting the aid of David Copperfield. Radford so lovingly recreates a 1960 feel that, at times, I expected Audrey Hepburn to emerge from the shadows. However, a major problem for me was that the film seemed to drag in parts as you eagerly awaited the inevitable outcome (I won't spoil it for you to tell you that the story begins in present day London and is narrated by the "95 year old" Moore). The narrative says a lot about how money affects us all and what ultimately is most important in life.

"21" ** 1/2

Monday March 24, 2008

I wasn't optimistic about this one beforehand based on the track records of director Robert Luketic (his latest was the almost universally panned Jane Fonda vehicle "Monster-In-Law") and co-writer Peter Steinfeld ("Be Cool" & "Analyze That"). Another instance where the trailer was terrific but the product wasn't. Although not terrible, there was something missing from this "based on real events" tale (from Ben Mezrich's best-selling book "Bringing Down The House"). Kevin Spacey and Lawrence Fishburne lend credibility to this project about a "nerdy" (who just happens to look like Tom Cruise down to his "Rainman" hair due) MIT undergrad (played earnestly by Jim Sturgess-"Across The Universe") who is enlisted by his professor (Spacey) to join a group of fellow students to beat the house counting cards in Vegas. The film is given the typical Hollywood glitz by including, as the only female in the outfit, easy-on-the-eyes Kate Bosworth ("Superman Returns"). The obvious love interest ensues and the, at times, music video look of the film adds nicely to the Vegas locale. Unfortunately, the script doesn't give the actors very much room to maneuver and, because of that, doesn't allow the talents of Spacey and Fishburne to rise to the level of their capabilities. There are a couple of plot twists that, if you're paying attention, you will have figured out for the most part. Throw in the cliche characters (the heavy set nerdy friend, for example) and you're left with a film that is quickly forgotten after the lights go up.

"The Counterfeiters" ** 1/2

Jumped over to the AFI Siver in Silver Spring for a members-only preview of the Academy Award Foreign Language Film winner hosted by the Austrian Embassy. Written and directed by Stephan Ruzowitzky, the Austrian-German produced entry is worth seeing but certainly isn't close to being the best Foreign Language film of 2007! (Several that were better weren't even nominated in this category. See my more detailed thoughts on that in my previous AA posts.) This morality tale is based on fact and details the Nazi's plan to destroy the world economy by flooding the market with counterfeit pounds and dollars. At the crux of the plan is the captive Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon Sorowitsch (played serenely and stoically by Karl Markovics who gives a wonderful muted performance) who is forced by his captors to head a group of some 150 artisans. In return for their efforts, they are given ample food and a decent bed to keep them "happy". The story becomes essentially a moral dilemma when several of the workers want to sabotage the plan but are thwarted by those who want to go along with the program in order to save their own necks. The filmmakers constantly employ the cinema verite shaky-cam to give you a sense of being there. And the realistic sets and grainy quality of the film lend itself to that end. However, ultimately, I was left dry at the conclusion-not really connecting with any of the characters and caring, really who, lived or died. Also, a prologue would have been nice to update viewers on the fates of the principals who survived. Maybe I'm just Holocausted-out.

Post-AA Ramblings

Monday March 3, 2008

Random thoughts on the 2008 Awards extravaganza:

-The Show: Typical. 2 1/2 stars at best. Is anyone else tired of seeing that caricature, Jack Nicholson, in the front row with those inane sunglasses? I don't get it. And how about the orchestra cutting in before Marketa Irglova could co-accept for the winning song "Falling Slowly"? What may have been a first was Stewart bringing her back out after the commercial break to give her speech. Classy!

-The Host: Jon Stewart did an admirable job. I'd give him 3 stars (out of 4). I actually laughed out loud a number of times. However, clips of past emcees (namely Johnny Carson and even, Bob Hope) made me yearn for someone more in tune with the Hollywood folks. As expected, his schtick turned more than once to the political arena which seemed a bit out of place.

-Best supporting Actor: As expected, they could have mailed the Oscar to Javier. One of the biggest slam dunks in Oscar history. Hopefully he won't be typecast for that role because he is one of the better actors on the planet. (If you haven't seen it, check him out in the great "The Sea Inside" where he plays the middle age(!) famous Spanish paraplegic writer, Ramon Sampedro. The film won the Best Foreign Language Film last year. He should have been nominated for Best Actor!)

-Best Supporting Actress: As I predicted (see above), this was the upset category of the night. Although my heart was with Linney, I absolutely totally agree with The Academy on choosing Marion Cotillard's performance. I didn't think enough members would have seen it. Also, what is even more amazing is that this French film came out in early June, way before the "Oscar season" which is typically after the summer blockbusters. Kudos to The Academy!

-Best Actor: The other slam dunk of the night. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance ranks up there with the all time best in my opinion. Totally deserving, it's a shame the dude has only made about 13 films in his career which spans some 28 years.

-Best Actress: I loved this selection which I picked with both my heart and head. Tilda's character was the driving force behind "Michael Clayton" and her acting was superb. She is one of the most underrated actresses around and I'm thrilled she was finally, justly acknowledged and rewarded!

-Best Film: What can I say? The odds-on favorite, I was disappointed that "Atonement" (which won for original score) got virtually shut-out. Once the show got deep into the night without any momentum at all I knew it wouldn't come close to winning any of the top awards. My same feelings for "Michael Clayton", both of which were superior to "Old Country For Old Men".

-Best Director: At least The Academy did the right thing by handing out the best director award to the Coens. Again, how can you not select the director(s) of the Best Picture?

-Best Animated: "Ratatouille" should have been nominated for Best Picture. At the very least ahead of the awful "Juno".

-Best Documentary: I was REALLLY rooting for "War/Dance" but "Taxi To The Dark Side" was an admirable pick and not surprising considering the political slant of the Hollywood community. Again, every American needs to see this before the next election-along with "No End In Sight"! Alex Gibney is one of the premiere documentary filmmakers around and I was glad to see him win after missing last year with the amazing "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room".

-Best Original Screenplay: The 3rd slam dunk went to Diablo Cody. Most people on the planet, for some reason, loved "Juno" so this was the expected "bone" they threw to it. This selection was a total sham as the screenplays for the other 4 nominees: "Lars And The Real Girl", "Michael Clayton", "The Savages", and the amazing "Ratatouille (which was an animated screenplay for lord's sake!!!) were all so vastly superior to this winner it's ridiculous! Thank the lord it didn't win best picture.

-Best Original Song: "Falling Slowly" is not only the best original song of the year, it is in one of the best movies of the year. A minor masterpiece, rent "Once" now!!!

Final tally: I got 9 out 14 of the major categories (it would have been 10 out of 14 if I had chosen OCFOM as the best picture. However, I did have The Coen Brothers as Best Directors). I missed on Lead Actress (I went with Christie-but not because I thought she deserved it), Cinematography (I thought "Atonement" would get it), Documentary, & Foreign Language Film (a guess). My total tally was 14 out of 24.

On to 2008!