Archive for February, 2009

The title may sound familiar because it is the same as the memoir by British journalist Toby Young; but this is not exactly the book in pictures.

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is a disillusioned intellectual who both adores and despises the world of celebrity. He’s the editor of a magazine that pokes fun at the stars; but a stunt involving a pig and a celeb affair leads to a job in New York with an upscale magazine run by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), a former rebel himself. Warned he must make a good impression to be successful, Sidney instead manages to annoy everyone. However, his career is saved by a demeaning act and the affection of rising starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox).

To make an audience care about an irritating character, two things must occur: the actor portraying said personality must be charming and there must be a redeeming love story. Luckily, filmmakers realized this as well. Pegg can say anything yet appear playful and likeable, while anyone else would radiate a need to be slapped (not that he avoids that destiny entirely either). His love interest is the sugary Kirsten Dunst, which definitely helps his case because if she can love him, why can’t we?

The problem with taking a story that spanned five years and boiling it down to less than two hours is a feeling of brevity. Montages and establishing shots attempt to fill in the gaps, but they’re still fairly wide. It’s obvious a lot must have occurred to get Sidney from one status level to the next, but those things are lost to film audiences.

The DVD bonus features include two audio commentaries: one with feature debut director Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and the other with Weide and Pegg. They’re pretty basic and the commentary with Pegg is not as funny as one would have expected. Also, they continuously mention deleted scenes and a gag reel that are not included in this release. “Sharp Interviews” features answers by the director, cast and Toby to intertitled questions. The recycled case is a nice touch though.

Sex Drive may not be as groundbreaking as its teen sex comedy predecessors, but you will squirm, giggle, and laugh out loud.

Ian (Josh Zuckerman) is at risk of starting college a virgin. His pudgy Casanova friend Lance (Clark Duke) has tried amending the situation but their best gal pal Felicia (Amanda Crew) somehow prevents success at every turn. Ian lives at home, which eventually leads to the revelation that his younger brother has more game than him. Ian’s older brother Rex (James Marsden) torments him every chance he gets. But when Rex leaves town without his vintage Pontiac GTO, Ian grows a set and steals the keys. He and his friends set out on a road trip from Chicago to Knoxville so Ian can lose his virginity to Ms. Tasty, a hot blonde he’s been talking to on the Internet. Of course, they encounter a lot of roadblocks on the way.

The concept of a teenage boy desperate to “visit grandma’s” is not new but the comedy is rescued by the road trip, which affords the writers more opportunity for hilarity. Most notable is Seth Green’s Amish car mechanic Ezekiel. His deadpan sarcasm is priceless, and difficult to respond to as a character. And apparently Amish kids on Ramspringa, a rite of passage spring break-style, really know how to party.

Another character worth mentioning is Señor Donut. By day, it’s just a big rubber donut suit Ian is forced to wear for work; but by night, it’s a fierce crime fighting pastry. He is a very memorable character and a perfect focus for marketing.

Zuckerman, Crew and Duke fit their roles and play well together but they don’t stand out from those that came before them. Marsden, on the other hand, is hilarious as the obnoxious gearhead with a short fuse. This role is unlike any he’s played before and he committed to it fully.

The DVD is on two discs. The first disc contains the theatrical version of the flick, as well as hilarious bonus features. “Sex Drive: Making a Masterpiece” is a making-of featurette spoof, with almost no one sharing a nice word and every member of the cast and crew that appear on-camera in on the joke. “The Marsden Dilemma” and “Clark: Duke of the Internet” focus on each actor and his (fake) inflated ego. “Killing Time in Hollywood (Florida)” is nearly indescribable but two words say a lot: Macho Man. Surprisingly, the audio commentary with director/writer Sean Anders, writer/producer John Morris and producer Bob Levy, is the least comical because the guys learned about filmmaking from other commentary tracks and want to pay it forward.

Disc-two holds the unrated version of the picture. But this is not your typical variation that just includes a little more cursing, or a little more nudity. The unrated edition of Sex Drive is an extra 20 minutes chalk full of random nudity, although the female to male ratio is way out of proportion. In any case, at any given moment, a naked man or woman (yes, naked) can be spotted walking through or decorating a scene. In addition, there are varied scenes included that even the actors couldn’t get through with a straight face and a lot of fart sounds.

This was one of the most anticipated Academy Awards in years. Fingers were crossed for the little movie that could and organizers were whispering of big changes to the worn-out ceremony. And for once, the promises of grandeur were fulfilled.

Fan favourite Slumdog Millionaire was named best picture, beating out Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Milk, and nomination-leader The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The low-budget, British-Indian drama about a Mumbai street boy’s rise to game-show glory went home with eight Oscar statues, winning all but two of its nomination categories.

Filling Slumdog’s pot of gold were awards for best director (Danny Boyle); adapted screenplay (Simon Beaufoy); original score and song (A.R. Rahman); cinematography; editing; and sound.

In the acting categories, Kate Winslet (The Reader) overtook Meryl Streep (Doubt) for best actress and Sean Penn (Milk) out-manoeuvred Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) for best actor. A wonderful Oscar moment came when Winslet asked her father to whistle so she could find him in the crowd and thank him directly during her speech.

The expectants took away supporting honours, with Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) taking home an Oscar and Heath Ledger (Dark Knight) winning posthumously for his portrayal of the Joker. Ledger’s mother, father and sister accepted the award on his daughter’s behalf, addressing the teary-eyed crowd with heartfelt thanks. However, inconsiderate planning had the next segment on documentary film cuing up as Ledger’s family exited the stage and the audience attempted to compose itself. A commercial break would have been much more appropriate.

Benjamin Button only took home awards for three of its 13 nominations, winning best art direction, makeup and visual effects.

Another Oscar moment immortalized itself when Philippe Petit, the subject of best documentary Man on Wire, made a coin magically disappear and balanced the gold statue on his chin while being played off the stage.

The following is a full list of 2009 Academy Awards winners:

Best picture
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Best director
David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Gus Van Sant, “Milk”
Stephen Daldry, “The Reader
Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire

Best actor
Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”
Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn, “Milk”
Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler

Best actress
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt
Kate Winslet, “The Reader

Best supporting actor
Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt
Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”

Best supporting actress
Amy Adams, “Doubt
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, “Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler

Best foreign-language film
“The Baader Meinhof Complex,” Germany
“The Class,” France
Departures,” Japan
“Revanche,” Austria
“Waltz With Bashir,” Israel

Best adapted screenplay
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
John Patrick Shanley, “Doubt
Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”
David Hare, “The Reader
Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire

Best original screenplay
Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”
Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges
Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter, “WALL-E”

Best animated feature film
“Kung Fu Panda”

Best art direction
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
“The Dark Knight”
“The Duchess”
“Revolutionary Road”

Best cinematography
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Best sound mixing
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
Slumdog Millionaire

Best sound editing
The Dark Knight
“Iron Man”
Slumdog Millionaire

Best original score
Alexandre Desplat, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
James Newton Howard, “Defiance”
Danny Elfman, “Milk”
A.R. Rahman, “Slumdog Millionaire
Thomas Newman, “WALL-E”

Best original song
“Down to Earth” from “WALL-E,” Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman and Gulzar
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Best costume design
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
The Duchess
“Revolutionary Road”

Best documentary feature
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
“The Garden”
Man on Wire
“Trouble the Water”

Best documentary (short subject)
“The Conscience of Nhem En”
“The Final Inch”
Smile Pinki
“The Witness — From the Balcony of Room 306”

Best film editing
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
Slumdog Millionaire

Best makeup
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
“The Dark Knight”
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

Best animated short film
La Maison en Petits Cubes
“Lavatory — Lovestory”
“This Way Up”

Best live action short film
“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)”
“Manon on the Asphalt”
“New Boy”
“The Pig”
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Best visual effects
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
“The Dark Knight”
“Iron Man”

Next to the winners (and their attire), the other big talk of Oscar night was the actual ceremony and its unconventional host.

Hugh Jackman brought a showman’s flair to the occasion with a couple of musical numbers, as opposed to the traditional comedic jabs. But the night was not jab-less. Jackman’s introductory song included an enjoyable number with Anne Hathaway as Nixon, but another about not having seen The Reader and his intention to just catch it on DVD. Ben Stiller took a knowing poke at Joaquin Phoenix’s new, bizarre persona, when he accompanied Natalie Portman to the stage dressed as the actor-turned-rapper.

Steve Martin and Tina Fey joined each other on stage to present the screenplay awards, but stole most of the attention for themselves as they exchanged playful banter. The skit culminated with Fey looking affectionately at Martin, and him demanding, “Don’t fall in love with me.”

A short sketch comedy featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco as their Pineapple Express characters was scripted by Judd Apatow. Unfortunately, the Academy’s reluctance to show the boys getting high restrained some of the funniness.

The best song performances were wonderful, with dozens of Indian dancers and numerous drummers accompanying A.R. Rahman’s renditions of the two nominated songs from Slumdog Millionaire. Unfortunately, Peter Gabriel chose not to perform “Down to Earth” from WALL-E, leaving the task to John Legend.

A third musical featured a duet with Jackman and Beyoncé Knowles; Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical; and Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper of Mamma Mia!. However, Jackman and Knowles’ duet could have been cut a tad shorter.

The technical awards were grouped, so presenters handed out all honours in compatible categories; and in between awards presentations, genre montages of nominated and non-nominated film clips were projected on the big screen. But the most applauded change was the presentation of top acting awards by five exceptional winners from previous years. Not only was it a welcome change from viewing the overplayed film clips, but it made just being nominated a little more special – ask Hathaway, who was brought to tears when she was honoured by Shirley MacLaine.

Blindness deals with a woman who feels exceedingly alone during an epidemic that unites everyone else in their sickness.

An unexplained outbreak of blindness spreads exponentially through the city and in lieu of any other plan, everyone who is infected is placed in quarantine. A doctor (Mark Ruffalo) is one of the first to enter the designated area with his wife (Julianne Moore), who is not affected but unwilling to leave her husband alone and helpless. The tale then becomes one of a woman stretched to her limits and a makeshift society run amok.

In addition to Ruffalo and Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal turns in an impressive performance as the self-proclaimed king of thieves, Danny Glover is the rational older gentleman, Alice Braga is the prostitute with the golden heart, and Don McKeller, who wrote the script and likes to appear in films to which he contributes, plays the belligerent patient.

The one element Blindness has in common with the last man on Earth plot is the total dissolution of effective government. It is an interesting look at one woman’s struggle, often conjuring imagery from zombie and apocalypse films. Unfortunately, the final half-hour slows down so much that you feel each minute drag past. If repetitive details were restricted, the film’s pace would be better. Furthermore, the conclusion feels excessive.

In the end, what could have been a great film based on story, abilities of the director (Fernando Meirelles) and cast, is made mediocre by pacing issues.

The first of the two-disc DVD contains the feature film and “The Seeing Eye,” which is an additional 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage embedded in the film. The second disc holds a 55-minute “making of” featurette titled “Vision of Blindness,” which shows how the cast learned to be blind and Meirelles’ unique style of shooting; and five deleted scenes that were intuitively cut from the film.

The Falling is dark, sexy and even a little thought-provoking.

Lars (Christopher Shyer) and Karis (Nicole Oliver) meet in a nightclub. The attraction is instant and they retreat to his place for a night of unbridled passion. The day after another tryst, Karis steps out to get breakfast and Lars finds a man standing in her kitchen. The mystery guy is her cop ex-husband Morgan (Rob Lee). Morgan seems determined to fix his marriage, becoming increasingly intrusive in Lars and Karis’ new relationship. In the meantime, Lars’ passion turns to obsession and he becomes manipulative. Unsure what to do, Karis turns to her friend Simon (John Cassini) for advice, but he is harbour some feelings of his own.

This narrative could have been much more complex, but it is presented from three perspectives: Lars’, Morgan’s and Karis’. However, what makes this multiple viewpoint picture interesting is each person’s interpretation of events is presented and there is no indication as to which is the true scene.

The film is very dark, both in content and visual style. Most of it takes place at night or in minimally lit locations. The negativity of the emotions that flow throughout the narrative are prevalent but not always as powerfully conveyed as they should be.

There are no DVD bonus features to evaluate.

A tale of getting everything on your wish list, then watching it slip away.

Angel (Romola Garai) is a small town girl with big city aspirations. Claiming to read very little and have few life experiences, Angel has the uncanny ability to imagine then vividly write Austen-esque novels that capture the hearts and minds of her readers. She quickly rises to the top, gaining fame and fortune, which eventually lures the man she loves into her grasp. However, her journey is skewed by her fantastical will and unfounded snobbery. As her world begins to crumble, so does her hold on reality.

Garai is wonderful in this role. She perfectly exemplifies Angel’s childish naiveté and womanly determination. As the centre around which the film must revolve, Garai appears quite capable. The supporting cast is a mix of French and English actors, all of whom hold their own.

The story is based on a novel by Elizabeth Taylor (not the one that gets married a lot). The costumes and sets are lovely. Its epic proportions are undoubtedly displayed on the screen but at a little over two hours, it could have done with some trimming. Otherwise, as it is, it could be a good two-part television event.

There are two DVD special features. The first is a 26-minute making-of featurette that slides between French and English dialogue describing the material and working in both languages on an English picture. The second is an 8-minute interview with Garai which adds little to the featurette.