Pre-Oscar’s Nominee Round Up

4 03 2010

As part of my pre-Oscar night flurry of watching as many movies as possible, I’ve managed to fit in quite a few films that I don’t have the mental stamina to write full-reviews for. And so, to make sure I have all my facts straight come tomorrow when I put together my list of “will win/should win” based upon the movies that I’ve actually had a chance to see. Most of these movies are also relatively old, or have been talked about left and right in the press so this reduces the risk of sounding repetitive. That being said, here we go!

UP

Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Release Date: May 29, 2009

One of the two 3-D movies I’ve seen in the past year, UP delivers as a feel-good children’s movie that both adults and kids can enjoy together. If I were 15 years younger, I would have enjoyed the story of an old man who tries to escape from the busyness on interruptions of city living by attaching a ton of balloons to his house and floating away with it not realizing he has a stowaway, Russel. The two travel the skies as they try to make their way to Angel Falls, where Carl, the old man, always wanted to travel with his darling wife as they sought to be like their role model, the adventurer Charles Muntz. The physical hijinks Russel and Carl encounter would have been laugh-inducing and the character of Dug, the dog, would have been lovable. Seeing it as a 23 year old (or rather, I was 22 at the time), I loved it even more. Not only did the comedy and hijinks appeal to me, but I was able to enjoy the deeper undertones of love and loss as well. The first five minutes of the film are a magical look at how love blossoms, grows, and endures and are well worth the price of admission. And exploring the visually stunning world Docter and Peterson created around the Angel Falls was a treat alongside the friendship Carl and Russel strike up. Final Verdict: Good

2010 Academy Award Nominations – Writing (Original Screenplay), Music (Original Score), Sound Editing, Animated Feature Film, Best Picture

Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarentino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2009

Tarentino is known for his violent, uncomfortable and all-around WTF plotlines and his latest film, Inglourious Basterds, is no exception. The first scene featuring Christoph Waltz as a deliciously devilish Nazi officer conniving his way to getting what he wants during WWII set the stage for a fast-paced thriller that actually makes you think. And then, all too soon, that compelling tale dries up into the pulp medium Tarentino seems most comfortable in. The Basterds, a team of Jewish-Americans bent on raising hell in the Nazi regime, is introduced in a confused sort of way that leads viewers to ask “well, wait, who are they?” And just as they start to figure out just what it is the Basterds do as a group, Tarentino once again shifts the action to only include 5 of them. There are moments in the movie that are delectable, most notably Diane Kruger’s entrance as an actress holding her own among a group of Nazi soldiers as a few Basterds try to infiltrate the ranks as Nazi officers, and any scene with Waltz, but for the most part the movie falls flat. Had Tarentino not attempted to rewrite a huge part of history – namely, Hitler’s death – the movie would have been a darkly comical look at WWII. As it is, Pitt and co. are entertaining – and at times disturbing, as when he shoves his finger into a bullet hole to torture Kruger – but it is Waltz that carries the movie and saves it from being an abysmal failure. His supporting actor nod is well-deserved (if not head-scratching worthy – who did the academy decide was the primary actor? Pitt?), but the Best Picture nomination is sorely lacking and may be a case of the Academy needing to fill out their inflated 10 spots. Final Verdict: Mediocre

2010 Academy Award Nominations – Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Best Original Screenplay

Avatar

Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel Moore
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2009

Coming in at the tail-end of the Avatar madness there’s no way I was ever going to see the movie without a preconceived notion of what I was walking into. It’s like Pocahontas in Space! It’s Fern Gully on crack!Hell, James Cameron even admitted that it’s Dances with Wolves in space! That said, there’s no way that I could have not seen it prior to the Oscars. And I had to see it in 3-D to get the full effect. Avatar is visually stunning. There is no doubt about that. The world which James Cameron created holds intrigue and wonder and I was constantly looking forward to what creature we would be introduced to next. From the six-legged horses to the scary panther who chases Jake’s Avatar and leads him to the Na’vi to the flying ikran’s and toruk the introduction of each new species was a pleasure to behold and kept things interesting in an otherwise dull story. The scenery was also spectacular. The floating mountains, the home tree, the tree of voices and the tree of souls are gorgeous and each sweeping panorama is almost as breathtaking as the next as Jake and Neytiri run through the forest at night. The plot, though, causes the film to fall a little flat. We get it, humans are bad for destroying Earth, Cameron disagrees with the war in Iraq, humans are too caught up in materialism. Yes, we had a fantastic little movie called Wall-E which reminded us of this all two years ago. Still, the love story, while predictable, was entertaining, and it was pleasant to watch Jake’s interactions with the Na’vi move from ethnocentric to familial. Final Verdict: Mediocre plot, Good Visuals

But the big question is: Did it need to be in 3-D? To an extent, the 3-D helped to capture the immensity and wonder of Pandora, but the entire movie did not need to be in 3-D. While the landscapes and battle scenes were visually compelling, the scenes in the RDA colony containing only human beings were awkward and slightly jarring. I don’t think I’d see it in 3-D again, but it might be interesting to see it in 2-D so as not to be distracted by the extra dimension.

2010 Academy Award Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects (honestly…this is a category? Just hand the award to Avatar now (up against District 9 and Star Trek)…there’s no point in even taking the time to announce it at the show) and Best Picture

Julie & Julia

Director: Nora Ephron
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2009

A light-hearted romp through time, Julie & Julia is probably the fluffiest of the films on this list – and that’s not saying much when you remember this list includes an animated movie. The film, based on a true story, follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) as she works her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about the experience. At the same time, we’re treated to a secondary plot following Ms. Julia Child herself (Meryl Streep) as she moves to France with her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), and tries to find something to keep her occupied during their stay. She settles on cooking and shortly becomes one of the best cooks in her class regardless of the fact that she was supposed to fail, according to the woman running the cooking school. The two stories touch on highlights of the women’s lives as they parallel each other as Julia tries to write her book, and Julie tries to cook her way through it. Sounds like a fail-proof plot, and yet, it fails. The Julie side of the story is unbecoming of Adams, who has proven herself to be versatile as both a princess (Enchanted) and a lower class woman trying to make ends meet in a gruesome way (Sunshine Cleaning). She’s shrill, she’s whiney and she’s at times downright obnoxious which causes her husband to leave her for a few days. While this may be an excellent character study by Adams, it’s detrimental due to the fact that her character isn’t compelling at all. Who cares if Julie makes it through the cook book? Not I. And certainly not Julia Child, who had a dismissive attitude towards the Julie/Julia blog. The directors should have taken a cue from the master herself. If Julia doesn’t care, the viewer won’t either. Instead, we should have been treated to an all Julia, all the time movie. The glimpses of France are beautiful and the in-depth look at just how a cook book is produced is interesting. But it is the character interactions between Julia and Paul that truly shine. Streep falls in the role of Julia wonderfully. She perfectly captures her mannerisms and her character, and Tucci is the perfect compliment as he offsets Julia’s eccentricities with his loving, yet solid demeanor. And the food looks so appetizing. Julie Child could definitely cook and she (and Streep) proved that much better than Julie Powell ever could. Final verdict: Mediocre

2010 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress in a Leading Role

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Palomino mixes excellent views of city, with Mediterranean flair

10 12 2009

We’re going to try something a little different today at The Good, The Bad and the Really Crappy – a restaurant review.

While this blog is devoted to reviewing books and movies on a timely basis – I promise there are quite a few in the pipeline (Rhett Butler’s People and The Angel’s Game, as well as a fun breakdown of holiday movies perfect for any occasion) – a restaurant review is necessary because I couldn’t find any online when I was trying to discover anything about a particular restaurant in downtown Cincinnati.

Palomino Restaurant Rotisseria and Bar

505 Vine Street

Cincinnati, OH 45202

Hours: M-Th 11 am – 11 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am – 12 am, Sun 3 pm – 11 pm

CINCINNATI – An excellent view of Fountain Square, some delicious food and a contemporary ambiance all recommend Palomino Restaurant Rotisseria and Bar to the savvy diner in downtown Cincinnati. But small portions, high prices, loud music and a confusing atmosphere may keep just as many people away.

Palomino, located on the upper level of 505 Vine Street in the same building (but separate from) Macy’s, is upbeat, trendy and elegant. The menu, featuring a European inspired re-imagining of American classics, is broad enough – from the hardwood fired pizza and the fresh seafood, to the pasta, steaks, chicken and pork – for anyone to find something they’d like.

The waiter, was very attentive and even moved our table so my friend and I could both see the windows, recommended the spit-roasted pork loin with mustard apple au jus over the baked four cheese penne, which he said was good, but no where near the pork. Served on a bed of Parmesan mashed potatoes, the succulent pork melts away from the bone. The hint of mustard in the au jus, which serves to further marinate the meat, provides just enough flavor to the dish and complements the potatoes excellently.

My friend sampled the Pan seared chicken piccata which was also served with potatoes and fresh green beans. The piccata had a light lemony taste that didn’t over power the rest of the dish, while the meat was very moist.

The atmosphere is casual elegant, and while most people were wearing slacks and a nice top, there were a few that didn’t seem out of place in jeans and hoodies, and still others that took their style to the opposite end of the spectrum and came in semi-formal wear. The dining area is decorated with splashes of deep, rich colors while an entire wall is devoted to windows looking out over Fountain Square, which, at this time of year, contained the city’s Christmas tree and a bevy of ice skaters.

The bar is a different story as it was as crowded as expected on a Friday evening. With hardly any room to maneuver and even less to catch a bartender’s attention, the bar is not the place to dine unless you arrive well before 7 p.m. Wine and beer seems to be decently priced as a glass of white was around $6, but mixed drinks, even simple ones like a vodka cranberry cost closer to $11. This doesn’t make sense as their menu espouses Long Island Iced Teas and Candied Apple Drops for $8. Drink prices aside, it’s impossible to hear in the bar area as the bass from the new age music being played pounds and everyone in the room continuously raises their voices to be heard over each other. If loudness and appetizers are your thing, though, the bar is for you as it has a community feeling to it with long, shared tables and seated enclaves tucked in corners.

Reservations are recommended, though the hostess will take names and cell phone numbers so you can wander downtown as you wait – with Macy’s less than 500 feet away, this option is very useful. The hostess, however, forgot about us as we browsed the department store and we had to repeatedly remind her that we were still waiting when we returned to get drinks and check on the wait time 45 minutes later.

The most confusing and frustrating part of Palomino is not the lack of service by a hostess, but rather the fact that an all-day happy hour with $4 drinks and $6.50 appetizers is advertised if you sit in the lounge, which would be very helpful in keeping the bill within a fairly decent budget. This lounge, however, is either non-existent or is a very small corner of the restaurant that had four or five tables for two as it was we couldn’t find these cheaper drinks and appetizers, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.

All in all, our bill was about $57 for two people. While this is not outrageous, it was disappointing as a lower-priced menu was advertised.

Aside from the hostess’ lack of attention, the overpowering noise in the bar and mid-level prices, Palomino is a great experience. The food tastes wonderful and the waitstaff is friendly and attentive. Now if only we could find that lounge….

Final rating:  Good, but it could have been better

(We might need to expand our rating system from Good, bad and really crappy)





New York, I Love You

23 11 2009

Director: Various

Starring: Miscellaneous

Released: Oct. 16, 2009

New York, I Love You begins with a lot of promise – Justin Bartha and Bradley Cooper, two New Yorkers who don’t know each other, accidentally get into the same cab. If this sounds like the set up to a joke, it kind of is, though unintentionally.

Two of the stars of one of 2009’s comedy behemoths – The Hangover – decide to share the cab, but can’t agree which way the cabbie should take to get where they both need to go. Their banter of ‘who knows best’ is interrupted when the cabbie chimes in with his own suggestion. Which promptly unites the two New Yorkers against him until he kicks them out of his cab.

And just like that, the audience is jarred from their ideas that this movie will be filled with this same sort of playful look at what makes the Big Apple tick in terms of love and relationships – if they had any to begin with (let’s face it, playful and NYC aren’t entirely synonymous in a post 9/11 world).

While collaborative movies are always admirable for their effort, they normally run into one common problem: as the movie gets lengthier and more vignette’s are added, each director’s vision is stunted.

New York, I Love You is a collaboration effort in homage to the 2006 film Paris Je T’Aime It follows the same format of short stories from different directors that add tot he common unity of the movie. Because of this you get a lot of big name actors packed into an hour and 43 minutes of film – aside from Bartha and Cooper, there’s Ethan Hawke, Robin Wright, Hayden Christiansen, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Anton Yelchin, Julie Christie, Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach , among others.

The second vignette is just as promising as the first. Hayden Christiansen, Rachel Bilson and Andy Garcia explore the different roles each person falls into in their life in a minimalistic way. Is Christiansen’s Ben a thief or a lost soul? Is Bilson’s wide-eyed Molly an innocent college student or aware of more than she lets on? And is Garcia’s Garry truly a debonair business man or a thief who’s primary sleight of hand skills allowed him to move up the corporate ladder? The sleight of hand is truly the star of this scene, though, as the viewer tries to figure out just who is ending up with who’s wallet, phone, watch, ring, and other personal belongings.

From there, however the movie wanders far away from the comical, with the exception of Anton Yelchin’s delightful high school prom romp with the “disabled” daughter of his pharmacist (Olivia Thirlby and James Caan, respectively), and delves into the much more complex emotions wrapped up in the hook-ups, make-ups and break-ups that surround the love lives of twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings in New York.

That’s not to say high school doesn’t have it’s own drama in the love department, but you’d be hard pressed to find a high schooler spewing the vulgar lines which Ethan Hawke spouts off to Maggie Q before she turns the tables in a delectable twist.

Love, lust and loss are all very apparent in the film, and while some of the vignettes seem to be toss-offs, others, like the Shekhar Kapur’s masterpiece of 8-minutes makes you wish he had more time.

In Kapur’s short, Shia LaBeouf plays a hobbling, Russian bellhop with more enthusiasm and humbleness than we’ve seen from him since he starred in Holes. He’s opposite Julie Christie, an aging opera singer who has just checked into a small hotel she always stays at in New York. The silence of this piece is astounding as it is juxtaposed with busy scenes where we get inside character’s heads and the streets of New York. Instead, life moves at a different pace in this hotel. The color, a stark white which contrasts with the predominant night scenes is an excellent touch. Life slows down, but the pace of the movie does not crawl. Instead, the viewer is exposed to one of the most real interactions in the entire movie, until the inevitable twist, which leaves many still scratching their heads after the movie ends.

Honorable mentions must go to Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn for the provocativeness of their scenes. In a city full of deception and mere white lies, it’s easy to get caught up in Penn’s dirty talk and even easier to understand how Cooper responds. Their shared secret, however, lends and intimacy to the scene which is only realized once it’s over.

Orlando Bloom’s turn as a struggling composer is also beautifully done as his relationship is revealed through phone conversations with Christina Ricci. Their interaction is so chaste that you can’t help but root for them by the end of their short time together.

And Bradley Cooper, in his second turn in the film, provides a glimpse into the psyche of the young adult living and loving in the city as he agonizes over the decision to meet a woman for drinks after what was supposed to be a one-night stand. Drea De Matteo provides the same treatment for the situation from a woman’s point of view in elegant fashion.

The crowd favorite, however, comes at the very end as Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach take on the roles of two stubborn and curmudgeon-y individuals who are still very much in love.

While each story has it’s strong points, and some have their inequities when compared to the greats, this movie does little to add points to New York. While filming took place all over the city, there is little that maintains that these situations are not happening to people in any city in the United States.

The movie also lacks a comfortable flow. While some stories slow the pace down, it more often than not seems as though time is flying by for these characters and they aren’t connected by anything more than a zip code, no matter how many times other characters appear in the periphery of vignettes that aren’t there own. Which, in itself, is one of the major reasons the movie doesn’t work as a whole.

With the exception of Cooper, Bartha and Hawke, who each take two adequate and unrelated turns front of the camera, it would have been better had each vignette stuck to it’s own characters. While it is understandable that people in New York could be passing each other every day or frequenting the same bars and restaurants as one other person, the walk-on roles of secondary characters who appear in their own leading vignettes is distracting. You start watching for who will pop up in the background instead of the leading ladies and men and it takes away from the overall theme of the movie.

As short, non-interrelated stories New York, I Love You works well on a story standpoint even as it fails to live up to the lofty goal of showcasing New York. But when the directors try to intermingle their characters the entire vision falls apart.

Verdict: A mixture of good and bad. More mediocre than anything with a few bright and brilliant spots. Overall: B-





Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

26 08 2009

Author: Sean Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

Released: 2009

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Anyone who was forced to read (and actually managed to get as far as the first sentence on the first page) Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in high school should recognize the similarity between the above sentence and Austen’s “truth universally acknowledged” about undead men being in want of wives.

The first sentence of any novel is meant to draw the reader in. It is the first sip  of a long, tall glass of lemonade that could prove to be perfect or too sour. It is what makes you want to continue reading or push the book away with disgust.

The first sentence of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies proves to be just right. Any Austen fan not fickle enough to be concerned when someone meddles with a classic and anyone interested in cult classics would be intrigued by it, especially when coupled with the photo of “Elizabeth Bennet”* as a zombie on the cover.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book fails to deliver the satirical punch of the first line as it falls flat and oftentimes feels lazy for a grand total of 319 pages – which, fortunately, clocks in below the original’s 360 (according to the Barnes & Noble “Classics” edition).

The first few chapters, much like the first sentence, are written brilliantly. The mixture of Austen’s classical prose and Grahame-Smith’s ideas is comical and relatively seamless. Anyone unfamiliar with the original may find themselves pleasantly surprised to happen upon Mr. and Mrs. Bennet discussing a neighboring estate. Mrs. Bennet is as pluckish as ever and Mr. Bennet seems to have become outspoken enough to tell his wife what he really thinks of her in ways which she would understand – even if she often chooses to gloss over his comments. Lizzie is as even-headed as ever – though now she has kick-ass physical prowess to boot. Jane is just as much Elizabeth’s confidante. And Lydia and Kitty are as officer-crazed as ever, while Mary gets lost in the fold.

The zombie back story is also set in these chapters, albeit it falls short of the seamless integration that the characters have in Grahame-Smith’s writing – as it does for much of the novel. It’s to be understood that some sort of plague has hit London whose ill-effects include the transformation into zombies with a lust for brains. This illness is transmitted – much like any other type of zombie plot – through a bite. For some unexplained reason, the Bennet sisters have been charged by the King to protect their town through the use of martial arts, in which they were trained in Japan.

The zombies are an important part of the story for a few chapters. Travelers and couriers often don’t arrive at their destination as they have run into these “unmentionables,” the Bennet sisters judge men on how well they appear to be able to fight off a zombie attack and the Netherfield Ball is ruined when a group of zombies kills and eats the waitstaff.

However, it is about that time where the zombies disappear for chapters on end. The book becomes a pared down version of Austen’s original with some scenes and dialogue cut out, but little added in terms of new ideas. It seems as though Grahame-Smith was diligently writing a book report on Pride and Prejudice when he suddenly remembered he was supposed to be writing about zombies so every 20 or so pages he would reference Elizabeth’s katana skills or kill off an unimportant character.

It isn’t until Elizabeth travels to see her friend Charlotte after her marriage to Mr. Collins that the zombies reappear in-depth. Charlotte has been afflicted with the sickness and the description of her transformation (which is apparently a long and slow process) is delightfully disgusting. Charlotte has become somewhat of a simpleton and her mental capacities and her physical health deteriorate further as time goes on. Once Lizzie leaves Charlotte, though, the zombies disappear again.

Aside from a carriage fight and mentions when Lizzie visits Pemberley, the zombies are hardly seen until the end of the novel.

While the zombies – which seem as though they should be an integral part of the novel as they are referenced in the title – don’t provide much to hold a reader’s interest, the new, more vulgar personalities of Lizzie and Darcy do.

While Austen had Elizabeth and Darcy verbally spar in a demure fashion appropriate for the 1800s, Grahame-Smith brings their flirtation into the open. Elizabeth frequently colors at the double entendre Darcy drops into conversation, and towards the end of the novel Elizabeth, herself, hints at some brazen “skills” she might have. The impropriety of their conversation is well worth reading.

George Wickham also provides a reason to continue muddling through the zombie-less pages. While he could be used much more to add to the plot – he seems to be thrown in as an afterthought in many scenes – the new circumstances surrounding his marriage to Lydia are enjoyable enough to discover on your own.

All in all, the book seems ill-suited to carry the “& Zombies” part of the title. Their sparse inclusion seems lazy and ill-conceived, but the more modern personalities of Austen’s timeless characters are what really makes Grahame-Smith’s adaptation shine.

The real question is if it can be pulled off once again with the next classical satire “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” which is slated for a Sept. 15, 2009 release. One hopes that Ben H. Winters manages to find a balance between Austen’s prose and his own additions that Grahame-Smith failed to do.

Rating: It’s hard to classify this book as Good or Bad. It has it’s bad parts and it’s really crappy parts, but any true Austen fan with a flair for the original would enjoy it. It could have been done better, though which leaves us with a final rating that leans towards Bad.

*The cover photo is actually a take on a portrait of Marcia Fox by William Beechey