Posts Tagged ‘hollywood’

Lights! Camera! Self-congratulation!

The glitz! The glamor! The hype! The wretched excess! Yes, friends, it’s that time of year again, time for Hollywood to make itself feel even better than it does on most days, the 2010 Academy Awards are here! And while Oscar-“worthy” films aren’t our usual “thang” here at TFG, your host does enjoy the awards not so much for the ceremony itself and the nauseating sight of Hollywood spending hundreds of millions of dollars to tell itself how great it is while, you know, 90-plus percent of the world starves, but because a couple of my very best friends  always throw a terrific Oscar party that’s become one my absolute favorite annual traditions as it provides a chance to catch up with old friends I don’t see often enough, take in the spectacle of the show with fellow cynics, eat some unhealthy food, get a little buzzed, and usually, in my case, win a few bucks in the traditional Oscar pool. And since this is the first year I’ve been here on WordPress at Oscar time (I think I started this blog last April), I thought I’d publish my predictions on here for posterity. Or something. So, without further ado, here are TFG’s best bets for the winners at the 2010 Academy Awards —

Best Sound Mixing — “Avatar.” James Cameron’s ludicrously expensive and amazingly overrated spectacle will win pretty much all the technical awards.

Best Sound Editing — “Avatar.” James Cameron’s ludicrously expensive and amazingly overrated spectacle will win pretty much all the technical awards.

Best Live Action Short — “Kavi.” I haven’t seen any of the films nominated, but this is supposed to be a mini-“Slumdog Millionaire.” That’s probably good enough for the Academy.

Best Documentary Short — “The Last Truck: Closing Of A GM Plant.” In truth, “China’s Unnatural Disaster:The Tears Of Sichuan Province” seems to be getting the most buzz and could well win, but I just don’t think that in these turbulent economic times Hollywood can pass on the opportunity to pretend it gives a fuck about ordinary working Americans that giving the award to “The Last Truck” would give them. They feel our pain, you know?

Best Animated Short — “A Matter Of Loaf And Death.” Most Academy voters don’t see these things and usually give it to the one with the most clever title.

Best Makeup — “Star Trek.” The Trek franchise has been a cash cow for Hollywood for years and here’s a chance to give it a cursory little nod while still letting it know it’s not able to play with the grown-ups in the major, “serious” categories. Trekkies/Trekkers/whatever-the-hell-they-call-themselves-these-days were pulling for it to get a nomination in the laughably-expanded Best Picture field, but the Academy declined. They’ll throw them a bone here and figure everyone can walk happy.

Best Art Direction — “Avatar.” Not a technical award per se, but James Cameron’s ludicrously expensive and amazingly overrated spectacle is just that, spectacle. And spectacle wins in this category.

Best Costume Design — “The Young Victoria.” British period costume dramas usually win this category.

Best Cinematography — “The Hurt Locker.” In point of fact, “The White Ribbon” deserves to win this and very well could — I may even break from my published predictions and pick it in the Oscar pool tonight just to make things interesting — but I can tell you from historical experience that the most worthy nominee usually doesn’t get this one, it usually goes to the best-shot film that’s nominated for Best Picture.

Best Editing — “The Hurt Locker.” A breakneck-paced film with lots of impressive cuts and jarring action, this is one technical award I’m guessing “Avatar” won’t take home. The editing really makes “The Hurt Locker” what it is, the script is flimsy and the acting is good, but entirely one-dimensional.

Best Original Song — “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart.” The Academy loves this flick and wants to give it more than one Oscar, and this category gives them their best chance to do that.

Best Original Score —Likewise, the Academy would love to look magnanimous and inclusive by giving Pixar’s latest soulless, by-the-numbers money press an award besides Best Animated Feature, for which it is, of course, a lock, and this category gives them their best chance to do that.

Best Documentary Feature — “The Cove.” Personally speaking, I’d love to see “Food Inc.” win in this category, but taking on global agribusiness requires guts, and taking on the slaughter of dolphins doesn’t.  We all know which way Hollywood goes if given the choice to be brave or to be safe, so I think “The Cove” is pretty much a given here.

Best Foreign Film — It hasn’t opened here in town yet, but “Un Prophete,” a strong dark horse contender here, is really supposed to be quite a flick. I don’t think its late push is enough to dislodge Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” from its early front-runner status, however.

Best Animated Feature — “Up.” Pixar owns this category lock, stock, and barrel, and while they have some strong competition this year from the likes of “Coraline” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” at the end of the day Hollywood knows which side its bread is buttered on, and will fork this award over to the guys who keep the cash flowing in.

Best Adapted Screenplay — “Up In The Air.” Let’s be honest, “Precious” deserves it, but Jason Reitman is the latest supposed next big “auteur” director, and the Academy really wants to give this movie something. Early on  this was a Best Picture favorite, but it’s lost its steam there and will probably walk away with this one as consolation.

Best Original Screenplay —“Inglourious Basterds.” No snide commentary here, Tarantino wrote a heck of a script that deserves to win and probably will.

Best Supporting Actress — Mo’Nique for “Precious.” No serious competition whatsoever, this is hers to lose.

Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz for “Inglourious Basterds.” No serious competition whatsoever, this is his to lose.

Best Actress — Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side.” I haven’t seen this sanctimonious pile of shit and don’t intend to, but Bullock seems to have a slight edge over her nearest competition, Meryl Streep, and the most deserving nominee, Gabourey Sidibe. Hollywood loves a story that says there’s nothing wrong with the lives of poor black people that rich white people can’t fix in ways that don’t involve, you know, actually raising  taxes on these bastards to give some of it to the poor, and this is their chance to give this unexpected mega-blockbuster a pat on the back for coming out of nowhere and fattening up the Tinseltown coffers. Hell, they’d probably love to be able to give this thing Best Picture, but they need to maintain some semblance of credibility even though they have none, everyone knows they have none, and they know everyone knows they have none. It’s just one of those things.

Best Actor — Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart.” A decent little flick with a fine performance by a great actor who’s deserved it ten times over, although maybe not for this film. Still, it’s his time, as the saying goes, and hey, the fact he even does his own singing in the movie impresses the fuck out of the Academy. They should have given him the nod about fifteen years ago for another “Heart” movie, though — “American Heart.” Awesome flick, check it out sometime if you haven’t seen it.

Best Director — Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker.” Here’s where the hyped “Avatar”- vs. -“The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow- vs. -Cameron “issue” gets “resolved.” But first, let’s be honest about something. The whole argument about a “quality” film taking on a megalithic Hollywood blockbuster, the whole David vs. Goliath scenario we’re being sold on? It’s all bullshit, because even though we all know “Avatar” isn’t very good, the truth is that “The Hurt Locker” isn’t, either. It’s a typical, tedious testosterone-fest that somehow manages to be set in the midst of the most controversial war since Viet Nam yet offer no commentary on that war whatsoever. That’s almost as amazing accomplishment in and of itself, when you think about it. I couldn’t make an apolitical movie about Iraq if I tried, and neither could most anyone else. Bigelow pulls it off, though, and if she deserves a prize it’s for sheer gutlessness. That being said, it’s still slightly better than “Avatar” because, well, most anything is. The fact that this film was directed by a woman is what’s getting it all the buzz, that’s just a fact. If it was directed by an old male action movie workhorse like Richard Donner or John Badham or Renny Harlin (or, for that matter, Brian DePalma, who actually gave us far and away the best Iraq war film, “Redacted”) or something, we wouldn’t even be talking about it at this point. Bigelow didn’t prove that women can be great film directors — that’s already been proven a million times over. She just proved that a woman can make a  movie that you would guess was directed by a guy. Which has also been proven many times over. But she’s gonna win an Oscar for it here. Whatever. It’s an important historical first that’s long overdue, sure — but Christ, it’s just a shame that it’s going to her for this. It’s nowhere near as good as countless other films directed by women, and in fact isn’t even nearly as good as the earlier work of Bigelow herself. But again, whatever.

Best Picture — “Avatar.” And so the “epic battles” ends with a draw, of sorts — Bigelow gets the Best Director nod for “The Hurt Locker,” allowing Hollywood to congratulate itself for finally recognizing a woman in the category, and “Avatar” gets Best Picture. Oh, sure, there’s a chance “The Hurt Locker” will win this — it’s won all the”mid-major” pre-Oscar awards, after all, and those usually set the table for the Academy’s decision by letting them know what it’s  “okay” or “safe” to vote for — but shit, people, this is still Hollywood. James Cameron just handed them their biggest fucking money-maker of  ALL TIME. That trumps all other considerations, and your host predicts that the members of the Academy will, in the end, simply not know how NOT to give this award to “Avatar.” It should come down to something else besides that, I suppose, but like I just said, this is Hollywood. Not only is it best not to expect too much, it’s best not to expect anything at all.

Anyway, enjoy the Oscars if you’ll be watching them, and if you happen to be reading this sometime after the awards, feel free to officially brand  me as either a genius or a fool in your mind, as I’ll surely have proven myself to be one or the other depending on how things shake out this evening.

"Hi! Thanks Fer Comin By My Good Friend Trash Film Gooroo's Blog!"

"Hi! Thanks Fer Comin By My Good Friend Trash Film Gooroo's Blog!"

Editor’s Note : While we’re certainly pleased to have such a distinguished guest as our first celebrity columnist here at TFG, we cannot be held responsible for any unorthodox spelling, punctuation, or syntax on Governor Palin’s part. As she has proven since her arrival on the national stage, the governor has a very—-unique grammatical style, and she agreed to appear in our humble little corner of the internets (whoops, that was the other intellectually challenged Republican’s phrase) only under the condition that we agree to let her communicate directly with you, the American public, without any editing or “mainstream media filtering,” as she put it, on our part. Here, then, is the governor of Alaska —

Howdy friends, it sure is good ta be able to sit down and have a little chat with all a you good people even without the filter of the main stream media gettin in the way of me communicating my message directly with you, the people of our great country that I love so much and thank the troops for all their hard work and sacrifice for our freedom for.

Now, when my good friend Trash Film Gooroo first asked me ta maybe think about writin a column for his blog, I admit I was kinda nervous. Sure, I’ve spoken in front of thousands, and delivered speeches, and even kicked some butt in that VP’s debate last year that I don’t care what anybody in the main stream media says, you and I know I won. Big. But a movie review? That was new ta me. So I gues what I’m tryin to say here is, this may not be the kinda review you would expect to read or I may not talk as directly about one little topic as people might be thinkin, but I’m just gonna talk about this my own way, directly to the suck— err, voters, without the filter of the liberal main stream media.

So as ya all know, last Friday was a busy day for me and Todd and the kids, what with that little announcement that everybody’s makin such a big fuss about, but by Saturday things had calmed down a little bit, and it was the 4th of July and I just wanna thank our troops for all their hard work and sacrifice for God and country and our freedom. So while other people were out seein fireworks or watchin parades, I thought a myself—what would a maverick do on the 4th of July holiday? No politics as usual, somethin really different, because I’m just not wired that way to do the politics as usual stuff. I’m wired different. Like a maverick.

So we thought, hey, why not go ta the movies? We could take the whole family . Except Bristol, who was out speakin at a conference on teen abstinence. I don’t know what else was goin on at that conference, but they had a great lineup, including Keith Richards lecturing on the benefits of drug-free living, John Goodman talking about the importance of a healthy diet, and Pete Rose talking to our youth about the dangers of gambling. I think I heard something about maybe even Mike Tyson showin up to talk a little bit on how to treat women with respect. So it sounds like quite a lineup of experts on their various topics. I think it was called the annual conference of HA, which stands for Hypocrit—-err, I ferget the name.  But hey. The rest of us had the day off, though, so I thought, hey, what would a maver—sorry, I’m repeatin myself, we decided ta go ta the movies.

Now, in our household, we try ta decide things as a family, and when I said “hey, should I work hard to fight for all our children’s future from outside government after we go see a movie?,” the answers were four “yes”s and one “hell yeah!” And the “hell yeah!” sealed it.

So, what kinda movies do we like? Okay, yeah, sometimes I like a romance or a “chick flick,” and of course the kids love comedy, but Todd, the “first dude,” is an action guy, and ya know, I admit it, I love action too, and so when he suggested we see the new “Transformers” movie, I just couldn’t resist. All that tranformin and changin reminded me of how I fight every day to tranform and change our state and our country that I love so much. I knew I wouldn’t be doin my duty as a maverick if I didn’t see “Transformers,” since I’m in the business of transformin this county for all our children’s future.

"Transformers : Revenge Of The Fallen" Movie Poster

"Transformers : Revenge Of The Fallen" Movie Poster

Anyhoo — we took the whole family except Bristol, even my eldest grands—-err,youngest son, Trig, who’s a special needs child, not that I’d ever mention that just to score cheap political points by exploitin my family situation. That would be so politics as usual. And I’m just not wired that way. I’m a fighter and politics as usual just wouldn’t be what a good point guard does. A good point guard knows when ta pass the ball to secure her team a victory, like I just did the day before when I did what was best for my state and the country I love so much and celebrate our freedom this July 4th and I just want to thank God for our troops one more time, they all sacrifice so much for our freedom. They’re our real heroes.

So anyway, Trig is a special needs child, and the reason I mention that is not because I want ta sound grand and special or anything like that or use him like some political prop. The world needs more Trigs, not fewer. And Trig needs ta see more movies, not fewer.  So we took him ta see “Transformers” with us, not fewer.

So my family’s been through a lot, what with the liberal main stream media constantly investigatin these spurious ethics violations and unfounded allegations and just plain crazy rumors flyin around, so I figured we deserved ta go all out — large tubs a popcorn, hot dogs, Twizzlers, and large sodas for all of us. The total bill for our afternoon at the movies was $84.50 charged to the Alaska taxpa—-err, my Visa card.  And if anyone says I didn’t pay for this myself they’ll be hearin from my lawyer.

So anyway, we sat down and the movie was a lotta fun, there was good old Optimus Prime and those two fun-lovin, abstinence-practicin teenagers and it was just so nice ta see a movie as a family because family is the most important gift God gives us in this life and I just thank God every day for my family and of course for this great country and all our troops who sacrifice so much ta keep us safe and free.

Now, I don’t wanna give away too darn much about the plot, that’s no fun! You wanna see all the suprises fer yerself, don’cha? And not have some crazy no-fun reviewer give it all away. But I gotta say two things that bothered me —

1. The movie seemed ta imply that the Transformers had been on Earth many thousands a years ago. Now, I get it. They need a neat plot twist ta make things interesting. But anyone who’s read the Bible knows the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. And man and dinosaurs were here at the same time. So this movies seems ta contradict the Bible by sayin the Earth is older than it really is. So we kinda had a little conflict there.

2. A lotta people are makin a big stink about these sapposedly black “hip-hop” kinda Trasformers with gold teeth who can’t read. All I gotta say is, lighten up, people. I got in touch with the black voters who love America who voted for me and John McCain last year, just a little kinda informal chit-chat, and  ya know what? They both said it was a lotta brew-ha-ha about nothin. We got a little laugh and little chuckle outta it I gotta admit, all this politically correct main stream media bias. It all seems so silly. And anyone who’s read the GOP platform knows that white people are the victims of alla the world’s racism and discrimination, not black people. Even today our President is black but we won’t talk about who he beat because we don’t like ta dwell on the past in my household. It’s all about our future. And our children’s future. And fighting for all our children’s future from outside government.

So anyway. We had fun. How did it all end up in the end? Well, I couldn’t tell ya. I did the maverick thing to do—I left the movie with 30 minutes to go. Sticking around to find out how things end? That would be easy. That’s the quitter’s way out. This way I can fight for the best ending possible from outside of the movie.

Anyway, thanks so much for readin what I had to say and for carin about this country. I’ll just take this opportunity ta say how much I love this country and all our children and love ya all even more from outside government than I did when I was in there and it’s just so great to be a point uard on this winning team fightin for all our children and our troops who I’m so thankful for who sacrifice so much and are our real heroes. Never forget that, no matter what the main stream media tells ya, I’m here every day to fight for God, county, all our children’s future, our troops, and our sacred American way of life.

This is Sarah Palin signin off from Alaska, be sure  ta catch me on my book tour when I come through your town, it sure would be a heck of a thrill ta see ya.

"Public Enemies" Movie Poster

"Public Enemies" Movie Poster

This is one I’d been looking forward to. Maybe it’s just a “guy thing,” but apart from the rather limp “Ali” and the disappointing “Miami Vice,” I think Michael Mann’s movies are, as the kids would say, the bomb. One of the most technically accomplished filmmakers around, Mann has an eye for the visual, an ear for the streets, and an intuitive understanding of the psychological mindset of both lawman and criminal unparalleled among today’s A-list Hollywood directors. “Public Enemies” looked like a winner from the get-go, with a top-notch cast, great historical backdrop, and a talented team behind the camera lead by Mann and his gifted cinematrographer, Dante Spinotti.

The results were everything I’d been hoping for and then some. As with “Miami Vice,” Mann drops us right into the middle of the action in “Public Enemies” with some  very brief introductory exposition followed by an intense jailbreak sequence that puts the pedal to the metal right off the bat, and once Mann’s got his foot pressed down hard on the accelerator, he seldom lets up.

The movie focuses on just a brief period of legendary bank robber John Dillinger’s life, from his absolute pinnacle to his eventual end, and while Mann doesn’t give us much by way of detailed background involving any of his characters, he smartly trusts his actors to convey that information to us and for the most part they deliver the goods and reward his faith in them.

Johnny Depp is out of this world as Dillinger, the screen’s coolest outlaw since Clint Eastwood’s Josey Wales. He’s a man of thoughtful action who’s always two steps ahead of everyone else, sometimes even himself. It’s the most intense and charismatic performance of Depp’s career, and he effortlessly conveys the charm and nonchalance that made Dillinger a folk hero in his time while giving hints at a raging cauldron boiling underneath the surface at all times. Dillinger’s life was a tightrope act, and Depp reminds us of that with every word and action.

Marion Cotillard is a stunning beauty who took the film world by storm with her portrayal of Edith Piaf in “Ma Vie En Rose.” She’s terrifically believable as  Billie, a girl with a hard past and little to dream of in the future who’s suddenly whisked off into a world of dangerous excitement when she meets Dillinger. The chemistry between herself and Depp is palpable and even the most jaded audience member will feel that even though these two just met and hardly know each other, their love is a smoldering fire that threatens to burn them both, but that they can’t turn away from. While one can plausibly argue that Cotillard is, if anything, underutilized here (and leaving an audience wanting to see more of a compelling character is a constant undercurrent in Mann’s working going all the way back to Brian Cox’s superb, and agonizingly short, turn as Hannibal Lecter in “Manhunter), what cannot be denied is that her appearance in this film represents a  second consecutive major international casting coup for Mann, hot on the heels of his landing Gong Li in to play the nominal female lead in “Miami Vice.”

Billy Crudup has a small amount of screen time as J. Edgar hoover, but he makes the most of it, portraying the paranoia, desperation for acclaim, and quiet ruthlessness that would consume him in his later years in their earlier, nascent stages with subtlety and intelligence. There’s no doubt in the viewer’s mind that Hoover will develop into a monster as his power grows over time.

The only somewhat disappointing turn in Christian Bale as G-man Melvin Purvis. He’s a stereotypical straight-shooting flatfoot who displays little of anything beyond an Elliot Ness-type caricature—plus his accent isn’t too terribly believable. Not a rotten performance, but nothing special, either.

On the technical side, while I’m not too crazy about movies shot on high-def video and transferred to film (a technique Mann also used on “Collateral” and “Miami Vice”), I have to begrudgingly admit that it works here. This is a movie that drops you right into the middle of the action, and the crystal clarity of high-def combined with cinematographer Spinotti’s frequent use of hand-held and unconventional angles does a fantastic job of making the viewer a part of the action rather than just an observer. The muted color palette Mann uses throughout also captures the feel of popular psychological preconceptions of the Depression era and adds an extra layer of ambiance to the proceedings.

All in all, “Public Enemies” is one to put on your must-see list, and represents something of a return to form of an American cinematic archetype that has been sadly missing lately—the outlaw as folk hero. While Mann has always excelled at creating sympathetic and believable villains,  in the past the editorial viewpoint of his films has always favored the lawmn in the end. Not so here. This time there’s no doubt the good guys and vice versa, as we’ve got a man of the people bank robber who only wants the bank’s money, not yours, up against ruthless G-Men who will beat, torture, and kill anything in sight if it means getting their man. In an entertainment environment where film and TV cops are always good and any shortcuts or abuses they partake in are always shown as well-meaning and just, it’s both a refreshing—and necessary—change of pace. The heroic outlaw is as American as apple pie and on this July 4th, I’m glad to see it make its return after far too long an absence.

It’s painfully obvious to one and all that Hollywood has a tremendously high opinion of itself. I admit that watching the Academy Awards is a guilty pleasure for yours truly each and every year, plus two of my favorite people in the world host an Oscar party that has become a tradition that I wouldn’t dream of missing.  But let’s be honest— it’s one of the most self-congratulatory events a person could watch, it’s as decadent as it is pretentious, and most of the self-adulation Hollywood heaps on itself during the ceremony is entirely undeserved.

Plus there’s the small problem that most of the films nominated for best picture suck, and when there’s a good one nominated it seldom wins. For evidence of this, look no further than last year’s awards, where “Slumdog Millionaire,” an entirely unexceptional film that was little more than a mass-market, anglicized cash-in on Bollywood  (a Bollywood movie for people who have never seen a Bollywood movie, more or less) beat out a piece of genuinely challenging filmmaking “The Reader” and one of the best political biopics you’ll ever see in “Milk.”  To add insult to injury, Danny Boyle won the best director award for his “work” on “Slumdog” even though there have been widespread and entirely credible allegations that he basically didn’t even direct the movie.

Need any further proof?  In 2005 “Crash” won out over “Brokeback Mountain.”  In 2000, “Gladiator” beat “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” In 1996, “The English Patient” got the nod over “Fargo.” In 1994, “Forrest Gump” was the choice over “Pulp Fiction.” In 1990, “Dances With Wolves” got the nod over “Goodfellas” (and am I the only one who was less than surprised that when Scorsese finally did wing Hollywood’s highest honor, it was for “The Departed,” which could very well be his worst movie?).  In 1980, “Ordinary People” received the blessing of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over “Raging Bull.”

Seriously, though, the list is endless. Almost every year at least two or three of the five films nominated for Best Picture are actively bad, and it’s rare that the Best Picture recipient truly is just that.

So what, has the Academy in its infinite wisdom decided to do today? Go back to the days—the waaaaaayyyyy old days—of nominating ten films rather than five for Best Picture.

What, I ask, is the point? Will there be ten good films made this year? Of course.We don’t need the Hollywood establishment to confirm this fact. There are at least ten good movies made every year. But will those films be nominated? A few, undoubtedly—but as is the case in most years, most— if not all— of the year’s best films will be completely ignored by the Academy. We’ll just have eight crummy nominees and two good ones rather than three crummy nominees and two good ones. Again—what on Earth is the point?  Do we really need the awards show to be another 30 minutes longer? Do the geniuses that run the Academy really think it’s an “honor” for five more films to receive admittance into their exclusive little annual club of officially-blessed works?

In short, then—ten nominees instead of five. Are we really supposed to think that this somehow improves the chances that the best film of any given year will be recognized as such ?

Please.

Movie poster for Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell"

Movie poster for Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell"

Once again, this “Hollywood Sidebar” column will be a short one, since Universal Studios doesn’t need any extra help from my little blog to promote their latest Sam Raimi multimillion-dollar summer blockbuster, but I just have to say — damn, this was good. I hesitate to use a shopworn cliche like “wicked good fun,” but in this case it really does apply.

I should say this by way of setting the stage : I’m not an enormous Sam Raimi fan. Do I love the original “Evil Dead?” Absofrigginlutely. The first sequel is pretty good, too, although a little heavy on the comedy elements for my taste. The third installment, frankly, does nothing for me, since by then they were just parodying themselves. As for the rest of Raimi’s oeuvre, I can take it or leave it, apart from “Darkman,” which I love to pieces. I could care less about the Spider-Man franchise, and found the third entry in that over-hyped cannon particularly appalling; I thought “The Quick And The Dead” was alright, but not great; I’ve never seen “For Love Of The Game” and really don’t care to; and as far as “A Simple Plan” goes, hey, I’d rather just see a real Coen brothers movie, they’re generally much better.

With “Drag Me To Hell,” though, Raimi is back on firm horror grounding. Sure, it’ s still got plenty of comedic elements, and an overall “Looney Tunes on bad acid” vibe, but comedy is not the backbone of the film—good old-fashioned scares are, and this movie delivers plenty of seat-jumping moments, even for the grizzled horror veteran.

The effects are generally pretty good, and while I’m no CGI fan, the computer effects that are used blend in pretty well with Greg Nicotero’s “real” effects and the whole thing flows pretty seamlessly, as far as the visual side of things goes.  Bob Murawski’s editing is , as always, both mildly inventive and  flawlessly professional, and Peter Deming’s cinematography is out of this world, his best work since “Mulholland Drive.” So the whole things looks like a million bucks—or rather more like tens of millions of bucks.

The performances are solid all around if not spectacular, apart from the always-excellent David Paymer as our leading lady Alison Lohman’s rather wormy boss. The cast of players  overall is plenty competent, and while no one apart from Paymer stands out as really great, you can’t complain about any of the others, that’s for sure.

As far as the story goes, it’s pretty standard gypsy-curse stuff, specifically young bank loan officer puts an old gypsy woman out of  her house in order to try to secure a promotion at work and is then haunted by a demon the old woman sicks on her, but as with the original “Evil Dead,” it’s atmosphere and execution that trumps originality here, and even though you’ll see the ending coming a mile away, you’ll still enjoy the ride thoroughly.

A couple of weeks back I said if you only see one Hollywood blockbuster this summer, make sure it’s “Star Trek.” Well, your humble host needs to acknowledge that he spoke too soon there. Sure, “Star Trek” is all kinds of mindless fun, but not as much mindless fun as this megabuck studio offering.

Don’t expect anything new from “Drag Me To Hell.” But do expect to have a great time seeing so much you’ve already seen before put together so well.

"Star Trek" Movie Poster

"Star Trek" Movie Poster

Suffice to say this will be a quick post in my semi-regular “Hollywood Sidebar” series, since “Star Trek” is a monolithic Hollywood summer blockbuster that doesn’t need any free promotional help from some little blog that seven or eight people read, any my recommendation is hardly going to make any difference as to whether any of that seven or eight of you see this thing or not.

I will, however, say this about this movie—I was not expecting to like it. I’m a sci-fi fan, sure, but have never been much for “Trek.” Fans of the franchise tend to work my nerves. I’m not particularly enamored with J.J. Abrams (I have a sneaky suspicion that “Lost” is one big scam,  I thought “Cloverfield” sucked, and I could frankly care less about “Alias” or “Mission:Impossible 3”). I’m hard-wired to dislike summer juggernaut releases just as a matter of principle. And yet, even with all that going against it—I liked this movie. A lot.

Why? Well, the performances were spot-on, the story was involving without being unnecessarily convoluted, it was accessible to non-“Trek” fans while not insulting the intelligence of long-time aficionados, the effects were good, the pacing was swift without feeling rushed, and it had a nice balance of nostalgia and newness. In short, it was everything you’re looking for in a blockbuster, and more than you’ve come to expect.

I would imagine the massive continuity changes will piss off some overly-obsessive fans, but let me just say, without giving anything away, that the plot device by which this film sets itself up as both a relaunch and a sequel was, in my view, pretty ingenious.  You needn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things “Trek” to understand how it works, and to be impressed with it. One more feather in this film’s cap.

I saw this with my dad, who’s been a big fan of the show since it first aired in the 60s(in fact, I took him to see it for his birthday). He enjoyed it quite a bit and left the theater with a smile on his face — that probably says more for it than any amount of praise and raving on my part could.

If you only see one summer blockbuster this year—a course of action I would fully support—make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.

Hollywood's Best Offering Of 2009?

Hollywood's Best Offering Of 2009?

Here at TFG your humble host doesn’t venture into contemporary mainstream Hollywood studio fare too often, but once in awhile they manage to get something so right that one can’t help but take notice. Such is the case with “State Of Play,” the new film from director Kevin (“The Last King Of Scotland”) MacDonald based on Paul Abbott’s highly-regarded BBC miniseries of the same name.

As a fan of the original, I regarded this new “Americanized” version with the requisite amount of trepidation one would expect, but walked away from the film not only pleasantly surprised, but downright enthusiastic. While it’s true that the only thing British about this version is Helen Mirren, the film nonetheless retains the essential character of its source material and shows that an adaptation can remain faithful to its roots without becoming a soulless husk of overly-literal fealty a la Zack Synder’s “Watchmen.”

Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, a grizzled veteran reporter for the fictional Washington Globe newspaper who has literally seen and heard it all before a thousand times over, yet conveys the sense that, while certainly a cynic, he’s just too damn busy —and devoted to his craft—to become as bitter as he’s perhaps got reason to be. Crowe gets to the meat of what makes this guy tick from the word go and delivers a finely nuanced and refreshingly understated performance. Ben Affleck is his old college roommate who’s gone and gotten himself elected to Congress after a stint in the army during the first Gulf War and retains some sense, so it seems, of honor and duty to country, but when a young staffer with whom he’s been having an affair either commits suicide or is murdered, his squeaky-clean image comes crashing down and his struggle to spin events to his ultimate advantage is one of the cornerstones of the film. Affleck doesn’t do much beyond play a cardboard cut-out in a suit, but then that’s all he’s ever done, and in this film that’s really all that’s required of him.

Cal must walk a tightrope between covering the story and remaining true to his friend, and the underlying tension between doing what’s right as a journalist and what’s right as a human being is his central character dilemma—it also doesn’t help matters much that Cal is in love with his buddy’s wife (played by Robin Wright Penn), has an old-school hardnosed editor breathing down his neck(the aforementioned Mirren) while simultaneously putting hers on the line for him with the paper’s unseen new Murdoch-esque owners, and is saddled with shepherding along a young assistant working on the story who comes from the blogosphere and represents the new wave of instantaneous, poorly-researched “journalism” that’s fast taking over from Cal’s paper-and-ink dinosaur.

As the story plays out, we come to see that Affleck’s congressman is the pointman in a series of Capitol Hill investigations into a Blackwater-type private paramilitary corporation, and that all may not be what it seems with his deceased young paramour. It’s a heady mix of intrigue, scandal, and greed that  your viewer really can’t say too much more about without spilling the beans, suffice to say that just when you think you’ve got the thing figured out, new twists arise to leave you freshly bewildered all over again, and even devotees of the original, who know how it’s all going to end, will find themselves enraptured by the terse, economic way in which director MacDonald contracts six hours of material down to just over two without missing a beat and without selling short the richly-textured layers of plots and subplots that gained Abbott’s TV version such near-universal accolades. Besides, with some new issues brought into the fold such as the examination of the role of private mercenaries—err, “contractors”—in America’s military operations and the rise of emerging media at the expense of the old, there are plenty of intricacies here for audiences both old and new to consider.

The end result is a classic jourmalistic thriller in the style of “All The President’s Men,” one where even if you know the outcome already—and in fairness most of the audience won’t—getting there is such a such an enjoyable experience that you won’t want to miss the ride.