Oscar Pick Generator v. 2.005

Ok, here's the end-all, be-all of Oscar picks. Everyone else is wrong, and I'm right. You heard me.

Anyway, I have no pick for Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, Documentary Short Subject or Foreign Language Film, because I haven't seen any of the nominees in those categories. Terrible, right? Well, that's Milwaukee for you. I am shocked and awed that we still don't have The Sea Inside. Grumble.

Here's how this is gonna work: I'm going to list all the nominees, and the one's I've seen will be highlighted in green, the ones I haven't seen will be highlighted in red. Yes, I know I can't 100% accurately judge the category without having seen each one, but what can I do? Sorry. Here we go:

The Aviator
The Incredibles
The Polar Express
Spider-Man 2 should win and will win

Putting together all the action effects including all the stuff with Doc Ock's tentacles was very impressive, although The Aviator or The Incredibles did some of the same.

Sound Editing
The Incredibles should win and will win
The Polar Express
Spider-Man 2

This pick is purely to split the sound awards. Either one could pick up both.

The Aviator
House of Flying Daggers should win
The Passion of the Christ will win
The Phantom of the Opera
A Very Long Engagement

Hollywood is bound to throw something at Mel's snuff film, so Cinematography seems like a good bet. It's not a bad choice, I just would rank it behind both House of Flying Daggers and A Very Long Engagement.

The Aviator
should win
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby
will win

Million Dollar Baby has kinda developed into the Oscar frontrunner, almost by default, and the boxing scenes are highly kinetic, so I think it'll win. Collateral was dynamic throughout, though, and more creative.

Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I, Robot
Spider-Man 2
should win and will win

While each film made good use of the computers and the rendering and whatnot, Spider-Man 2 accomplished the most by placing the fantastic into the real.

Art Direction
The Aviator will win
Finding Neverland
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
should win
The Passion of the Christ
The Village

I don't think the Academy will take a "kid's" movie seriously, so I think my favorite has little chance. I'm going with The Aviator, but Passion could take this category as well.

Costume Design
The Aviator will win
Finding Neverland
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
should win

See Art Direction.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Passion of the Christ
should win and will win
The Sea Inside

Ah, now we get to one I missed. While either Events or Passion would be a good choice, I believe the intense realism of J.C.'s scourging will win the gold. It's what he would have wanted.

Original Song
"Accidentally in Love", Shrek 2 should win
"Al Otro Lado Del Rio", The Motorcycle Diaries
"Believe", The Polar Express
"Learn to be Lonely", The Phantom of the Opera will win
"Look to Your Path", The Chorus

This one's really hard to predict. Accidentally in Love is a great song, that fit perfectly into Shrek 2, but will voters go for a upbeat rock song? I think they'll reward Sir Andrew, even though the song was tacked on to receive a nomination. I hate that. And mark my words, if that crappy ass Polar Express song wins, I will jump out a window. Or several.

Original Score
Finding Neverland
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
should win and will win
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Passion of the Christ
The Village

Another tough pick, but I think John Williams will pull it off for Harry Potter. I really do think it's an open field, though, except for The Village.

Documentary Feature
Born into Brothels
The Story of the Weeping Camel
Super Size Me
should win and will win
Tupac: Resurrection
Twist of Faith

Well, I've only seen two of these, but Super Size Me is the clear favorite. It's a popular doc, which is rare, and it has a very pointed message that I think most of Hollywood gets. I love Morgan Spurlock, and I really hope he can follow this win with continued success.

Animated Feature
The Incredibles should win and will win
Shark Tale
Shrek 2

The Incredibles has gotta win this, for my sanity to remain intact. Shrek 2 was good, but it was more of the same. The Incredibles has reinvented the computer animation genre, by making it appealing to adults. Heaven forbid! Yeah, it's a Disney flick, and yeah it's kiddie at times, but it also poignant and explores the mid-life crisis almost as well as Sideways.

Screenplay (Original)
The Aviator, John Logan
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman should win and will win
Hotel Rwanda, Kier Pearson and Terry George
The Incredibles, Brad Bird
Vera Drake, Mike Leigh

Maybe the most overlooked film of the year, due to it's early release date, Eternal Sunshine should take home this consolation prize, lacking a Best Director or Best Picture nom. Charlie Kaufman is a probably the one screenwriter in Hollywood where I will see anything with his name on it, no questions asked. After Jersey Girl, I can't say that for Kevin Smith. And while I appreciate that The Incredibles got a nom here, its not a contender.

Screenplay (Adapted)
Before Sunset, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Finding Neverland, David Magee
Million Dollar Baby, Paul Haggis
The Motorcycle Diaries, Jose Rivera
Sideways, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor should win and will win

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I'm still not sure what Before Sunset was adapted from. Was it a play or a book? I'm so confused. Anyway, this category is a toss-up between Million Dollar Baby and Sideways, and I'm hoping the latter wins out. Sideways features some of the most intelligent dialogue in a film this year, and Baby does veer a bit into melodrama territory.

Supporting Actor
Alan Alda, The Aviator
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby will win
Clive Owen, Closer should win

This category is hard for me to accept, since Church and Owen both turned in terrific performances, but I don't expect either to win. Morgan Freeman is the frontrunner, although in my review of Million Dollar Baby, I point out that he is playing the same character over and over again. That gets him an Oscar? If both he and Eastwood win the acting awards, I'll flip out, because they took NO chances. None.

Supporting Actress
Virginia Madsen, Sideways will win
Sophie Okenedo, Hotel Rwanda
Natalie Portman, Closer should win
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

While Portman will get many more chances in her still-young career, Madsen has come out of nowhere to turn in one of the best performances of the year in Sideways. And while all the nominees were good, she is the only one to really affect me emotionally. Natalie should get some sort of hotness award, though. Perhaps Tim could be the "presenter". By the way, check out his Oscar picks here.

Jamie Foxx, Ray should win and will win
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland

In a year with no clear frontrunner, this is the most certain pick I have: Jamie Foxx for Best Actor. Go ahead and print up the nameplate for the statue, it's a done deal.

Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby will win
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind should win

Another category where I missed a couple, but I'm pretty sure of Hilary Swank's win. Annette Bening won the Golden Globe, but so did Swank, and drama trumps comedy in these situations. Any of you who know me know I have a soft spot for anything Kate Winslet does, but my vote is for her and for Eternal Sunshine, so that it wins something, anything.

Taylor Hackford, Ray
Martin Scorcese, The Aviator should win
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby will win
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake

For the love of all that is holy, will someone give Scorcese an Oscar already? I cannot accept that he doesn't have one, and while I might not like The Aviator as much as Gangs of New York (minus Cameron Diaz), it is certainly good enough to give Marty the win. I'm begging. Million Dollar Baby, though, will probably win, as it is pretty good, and I think the Academy wants to apologize for steamrolling Mystic River with Return of the King. So, yeah, while this is the award I'm most anticipating, I don't think Scorcese will get it. If he does, I'll do a little jig.

Ray could be a surprise winner, after the Grammys

The Aviator takes 2nd place

Million Dollar Baby will win

Sideways should win

Finding Neverland will NOT win

The Best Picture category is anybody's game. I really have no idea who will win, except I know Finding Neverland will not. In the end, I think Million Dollar Baby will take it, although Sideways is my choice. It would be nice to have a comedy win, for a change, and I though Baby was kinda overrated. Sideways showed how a simple road trip story can take you on an emotional ride, and gave depth and heart to the idea of middle age. Beautiful. Unfortunately, I don't think it stands much of a chance against the one-two combo of Baby and Aviator, both bigger mainstream films. I'll be surprised if one of those two doesn't win, and if Finding Neverland wins, the apocalypse is nigh, and this may well be my last blog post. Fare thee well, citizens of earth!


It's Constantine. John Constantine, asshole.

Kelsey and I went to go see Warner's newest attempt at a comic book adaptation, Constantine, at the Westown Ultrascreen last night. On a related note, if you need to see a BIG movie in Wisconsin, this is the place to go. I will see Star Wars: Episode III on this screen, even if I have to fight someone. I will fight you, if I have to. Anyway, I'm rambling again.

Now Constantine is based on Hellblazer, the Vertigo (A DC imprint) comic about John Constantine, a sort of independent contractor exorcist and all around badass. He was born with the ability to see the half-breed angels and demons that surround us, and after committing suicide, he returned to life to try to earn his way into heaven. So he tries to maintain the balance of good and evil, and send to hell any demons (or angels) that get out of line. The cool thing is that he does so in stylish and inventive ways, and smokes his cigarettes and drops his self-deprecating one-liners throughout. He's kinda like the anti-Blade, wherein he's not interested in kung-fu chopping all the bad guys individually, but he'd rather just feed some holy water through the sprinkler system and wreak havoc that way. It's very cool, in a way that other comic adaptations have tried to be.

Look at Warner's disastrous Catwoman. Pretty much everyone hated it, and it failed at the box office. Now Constantine opened with around 34 mil on it's first weekend, which is pretty good, and the Wb has almost redeemed themselves with this one. Now I haven't read Hellblazer, so I can't comment on the changes made from the comic, except for the change of venue from England to the US. While I understand how the fanboys will go on crazy rants about how this is an outrage, and Keanu Reeves is a disgrace to the name Constantine, I dig the move. The comic's creators have said that they based the look of Constantine on Sting, and had pegged him to play the title role if a film was ever made. But since the studio went with Reeves, which I get, they had to make him American. Do you really want Keanu to try a British accent? Are you dumb?

Speaking of Ted Theodore Logan, he reprises his role as Neo, the One who will save Zion from the machines. What's that you say? This isn't a Matrix sequel? Ohhh.. well then he plays Keanu Reeves. Which is what he does in every movie. I do place some of the Matrix blame on the costume designer, who obviously never saw The Matrix, or just didn't realize they were dressing him exactly the same as "Mr. Anderson" Neo. I know I'm nitpicking, and I don't care. Keanu does turn in a serviceable performance, but he is outshined by Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, Djimon Hounsou and Peter Stormare, a super-talented ensemble for a comic book movie. Stormare, who I didn't know before this movie, plays Satan himself, and is so fun and seductive in the role that I ended up rooting for him to just kick everyone's ass and be done with it. Rule of thumb: if a movie can get you to cheer for Satan, the Prince of Darkness, it's doing something right.

Director Francis Lawrence makes his big-screen debut here, having previously directed music videos. Like fellow MTV alums Spike Jonze and David Fincher, Lawrence has a definite style, which is a necessity for a flick like Constantine. But his inexperience shows at times, as the narrative gets pretty confusing, and "payoff" moments are not fully explained. I could see how Joe Moviegoer wouldn't like this movie, since it does require a lot more thought than your average popcorn flick.

When it comes to superhero movies, I always find myself comparing them against each other. So is Constantine better than Catwoman? God, yes. Is it better than Hellboy? I think so. But it is better than Spiderman 2? Not so much. It's good, but not great. I can see it as a franchise, perhaps a trilogy like X-Men will be, as there's a lot of material with the whole religious angle. Constantine is a fun movie, and an intelligent one, that appeals to me, the sometimes fanboy. That's an accomplishment in and of itself, so Constantine gets a B.


Hotel Rwanda

While I loved Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray, it's a shame it was released this year, as he has kinda eliminated all the other contenders for Best Actor. Don Cheadle, who has been known more as a supporting player throughout his career, has shined in Ocean's 11, Traffic and Boogie Nights. Cheadle gives just as good a performance in Hotel Rwanda, but he has zero chance at the Oscar, as everyone knows Foxx has it in the bag. I make this prediction right now: if Foxx does not win the Oscar, there is going to be a riot.

Hotel Rwanda is the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, played by Cheadle, the house manager of a four-star hotel in 1994 Rwanda. When civil war breaks out in the country, mass slaughter and genocide, dogs and cats living together, Paul is left in charge of the hotel, and by result, the hundreds of refugees flocking to it for safety. As he is torn between protecting his job, his family, his staff and his guests, Paul must tread the very thin line between opposing factions, and try to survive the onslaught of any number of enemies. It is a harrowing account of trying to maintain the norm in times of war, and it is one of the most real movies I've seen in a long time. I never once broke away and thought about the lighting or locations like I tend to do sometimes. I was fully engrossed in the story and characters, not the technique, which is exactly the way it should be. Like Chuck told me in school, and like Futurama reiterated, when you do things right, they won't be sure you've done anything at all. Words to live by.

Cheadle and co-star Sophie Okenedo both received acting noms for this film, and it also features Joaquin Phoenix and Nick Nolte. Otherwise, the cast is basically unknowns, at least in the US, but the entire ensemble performed well. I can thank writer-director Terry George for that, impressive in his first big picture. George is a screenwriter first, having scripted the Daniel Day-Lewis dramas In the Name of the Father and The Boxer, as well as the so-so Hart's War, and his talent for writing shines in Hotel Rwanda. It could have been a melodrama, with much of the weeping and the crying and screaming and whatnot, but George keeps things subtle and subdued, to even greater emotional impact. When Paul's stiff upper lip finally breaks, it is a heartbreaking experience, instead of just scenery chewing. And while the film does get into a bit of tearjerkery, if that's a real word, it doesn't fall into the trap of something like Ladder 49, by quite obviously aiming straight at the ol' waterworks. (Ladder 49, by the way, gets no pass for being about firefighters in a post 9/11 world. It's sentimental crap, albeit crap about heroes.)

Hotel Rwanda was one of the last of my Oscar films to watch this year, and I can see why it has received such recognition. In any other year, Don Cheadle would probably be my favorite for the statue, but we can't change that now. Oh well. And while true-life films sometimes come across as fake, just by design, Hotel Rwanda is very, very real; real enough to make me appreciate my surroundings that much more. (I don't have to worry about being attacked by a machete-wielding maniac, at least until Dave and I go to Crystal Lake. Jason lives there.) The film is a hard-hitting look at important social issues, such as racism, but it's also entertaining enough to be popular. Hotel Rwanda gets an A.

Cube Zero

Sunday marked the start of our reduced hours at work, so we closed at 10 pm instead of midnight. Around 10:15, Jessie called me because the timelock safe wouldn't open. Well, duh. That's because it's not supposed to open until 12:05 am, and I forgot to call the safe company to change it. So I went in, and basically babysat the store until the safe would open, incidentally giving me time to watch Cube Zero.

I'm a big fan of the first movie in this series, Cube (or as the Spanish call it, El Cubo), but I was sorely disappointed by its sequel, Cube 2: Hypercube. So I had low expectations for this prequel, but in the end it was fairly entertaining, and provided a nice link the original film that I didn't expect.

Like the previously reviewed Saw, Cube took a fairly simple setup and ran with it. In the original, a bunch of strangers meet in a series or interconnected cube-shaped rooms, some of which are discovered to contain ultra-violent, ultra-deadly traps, the egg-slicer inspired dicer being my personal favorite. None of them remember who they are or how they got there, but they have to work together to try to escape. Cube Zero gives background on who is running this maze, and their motives, but also focuses on another group of lambs inside the cube.

The mechanism is basically described as an alternative to the death penalty, ala The Running Man. Each of the subjects inside supposedly agreed to enter voluntarily, as to at least have a sporting chance at life. But no memory, they don't know that. So one of the technical operators, fed up with watching people die, perhaps needlessly, decides to intervene, and enters the cube with the intention of saving a particular blonde that he's taken a shine to. Ho-hum. I know this all sounds mind-numbingly dull the way I describe it, but the parts of the movie inside the cube are good. It's just the endless banter between the two techs that seems really stretched out, and I ceased to care after a couple scenes. Get to the carnage! Get some dramatic tension going on! Do something!

Where the Cube movies all falter is the generally terrible acting throughout. While the three movies have three different writing/directing teams, they all seem insistent on coming up with the cheesiest dialogue they can think up, and then instructing the cast to overact to the nth power. Now, I'm not expecting a low-budget sci-fi film to rival Mystic River in performance standards, but when the acting distracts from the plot, that's not good.

All said, Cube Zero is a worthy addition to the Cube mythos. While not as fresh and original as the first movie, it's definitely better than Hypercube, and probably the best direct-to-video flick I've seen in a long, long time. While I did like it, the acting takes it down to a C. Word.

Movie mayhem, and what not...

I've been running around like a madman trying to see as many movies as I can before Oscar night, so posts have been infrequent. My bad. Anyway, here's my right now list of what I still need to watch:
  1. Lemony Snicket
  2. Being Julia
  3. Story of the Weeping Camel

I think I'll get to all three, but we'll see. I will post my Oscar picks on Friday regardless, so tune in for that. Anyway, here's the promised update on several key issues, followed by a three-pack of reviews: Cube Zero, Hotel Rwanda and Constantine.

First of all, my car. I tried going to see Hotel Rwanda last Thursday, but when I arrived at West Point in Waukesha, a nice lady tapped on my window and said "There's something leaking out of your car." Well, upon further inspection, it was antifreeze, and a lot of it. I popped the hood and sure enough there was a veritable explosion of fluid. I don't know much about cars, but I knew this wasn't a radiator leak, more likely a blown hose. Curious thing was, my temp gauge on my dashboard still indicated normal and hadn't changed at all in my 20 minute trip to the theater. So I called Griffin Ford, and asked when they could get it in, which was 9 pm. This was at 4 pm. And of course, they had no loaner to give me. So after much deliberation, I just dropped the car off there, and picked up a rental from Enterprise. I knew I had to work Friday morning, and Kelsey, my go-to ride provider, was to be in Whitefolks Bay all weekend babysitting for the Bruno's son, Thad. So I drove around in a little Kia Rio for Thurs-Fri-Sat.

Turns out the fan inside my water pump broke, and clogged the thermostat intake. So basically the engine was overheating, and blowing the radiator hose, and not telling me this was going to happen, since the thermostat wasn't working. Doh. All told, repairs were about 700 bucks, including my spring service package and fixing the "Check Engine" light, finally. I think they just turned it off, and it hasn't come back on, so I pay them money. Grr. Car is alll better now, though, and I love her very much.

On a happier note, I got tickets to see Kevin Smith speak in Crystal Lake, IL, on April 3rd. Sure, it's the same night at Wrestlemania 21, but I can deal. This is gonna be sweet! After seeing An Evening with Kevin Smith on DVD, I am really looking forward to being there in person. Dave is coming, too, as well as a player to be named later.

What I haven't decided yet is whether I'm going to Celebration III in Indianapolis. I really want to go, but not by myself. It's April 21-25, so Eric can't go, and Brian just got a new job, so he can't. Kelsey, the eternal sweetheart that she is, said she would go with, but I don't want to but her through that since she would be going just for me. Hmm. I need to chat with Tim to see if he wants to come down, and maybe that'll work. We'll see.

Finally, I got Karaoke Revolution for the XBox, and it's awesome. Brian, Collette, Kelsey and I all played it Friday night, and even though I can't sing to save my life, if you put it on a eay setting, I can get a fairly good score. There definitely needs to be a drunken karaoke night, though, so nobody will be self-conscience about busting it out. Oh yeah.

Well, that's all the updates I have for now. I've spent today doing laundry and watching UFC, like a day off should be. Pizza's on the way. Stay tuned for reviews. Jensen out.


I need to go to bed, but...

stay tuned for coverage of the following events, coming soon to a blog near you:

  • Car Issues
  • Kevin Freakin' Smith, and me going to see him
  • Am I going to admit my Star Wars problem?
  • Karaoke Revolution

Soon on Crescent Fresh!

Before Sunrise/Sunset

I'm posting this as a double review, my first ever, since they are basically the same film, albeit seperated in time and quality. Before Sunset was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, so I had to watch it, but I had to watch it's predecessor, Before Sunrise, first. That's the way these things work. To make it simple for you, I liked Sunrise better, as it was more original, and Sunset seemed sort of tacked on. But further explanation exists below...

Before Sunrise features Ethan Hawke (as Jesse) and Julie Delpy (as Celine) as two strangers who meet on a train en route to different destinations, and decide to spend a night together wandering Vienna. The concept in and of itself is very romantic, but the film does not devolve into dewey-eyed splendor as it easily could have. The whole movie is best described as one long conversation between the two characters, where they discuss any topic under the sun, and in the short hours they spend together, fall in love. It's a very, very talkative movie. It could easily be done on stage, or be relocated to basically any location in the world. It's well-executed, pure and simple. Their journey through the city is like a journey through an entire relationship, concentrated into one night, and distilled to its essence. It's like taking a shot of whiskey, as opposed to sipping wine throughout your dinner. BAM! An ambiguous ending opened the door for...

Before Sunset, which catches up with Jesse and Celine 9 years later, as Jesse is on a book tour promoting his "fictional" story of the plot of the first movie. Celine surprises him in Paris, and, as before, they spend a whirlwind time together, with ambiguous results. Complications abound, though, as Jesse is married and a father, and Celine is involved and has become very bitter towards love as a concept. Nevertheless, it is evident that they never stopped thinking about each other, and begin all over again to recapture the lightning in a bottle that they had their first night in Vienna. Where Sunset falters, though, is in originality and predictability. It is basically more of the same of Sunrise's successful parts, which is good, but I guess I expected a little more variety. And this may be the jaded film geek in me, but I knew how it would end within the first five minutes of the movie. It's only 75 minutes, too. I can't really knock off points for runtime, but it's just worth noting.

Richard Linklater, writer/director, of both films, has proven himself to be one of the most prolific double threats that can straddle the indie/studio line. He has had modest studio hits with Dazed and Confused and School of Rock, but he's not hesistant to do psuedo-animation like Waking Life or the upcoming A Scanner Darkly, or take a chance on the rarest of all genres: the indie romance sequel. That's basically unheard of. While Sunset is a noble effort, it falls short of it's parent, but Linklater should be commended for doing his own thing. I'm sure there were oceans of studio execs that would have laughed at the notion of a sequel to Before Sunrise, but here we are. It got an Oscar nom, and I would say deservedly so. I doubt it'll win, though, as it's up against Sideways and Million Dollar Baby in the Adapted subgroup. Sideways should take that.

While watching both films back to back is not advisable, as that much talking can make your head explode, both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are good films, providing a glimpse into how two strangers can connect in such a huge world as ours, and proving that lightning sometimes strikes twice. In the case of Jesse and Celine, lightning all over the place in Sunset, but for Richard Linklater, no such luck. Before Sunrise gets a B, Before Sunset gets a C.

Tupac: Resurrection

Guess who's got a messiah complex?

Well, it's not Tupac, because he's dead. But the makers of the documentary Tupac: Resurrection do go out of their way to portray him as such. I thought I would gain a newfound appreciation for his music, but I just watched an intelligent young man killed in his prime. And I don't feel sorry for him.

Let's start from the beginning. Tupac: Resurrection is a documentary from Paramount subsidiary MTV Films, about the life and death of rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur. It's "gimmick" is that Tupac himself narrates the movie, even though he was killed in September of 1996. The voiceover is culled from the numerous interviews he gave throughout his career, and is actually pretty effective in giving the film a base in reality. When you hear the subject of a documentary describing the events of his life, its way more effective than a disembodied voice staple like Bill Curtis or James Earl Jones.

I won't get into the whole story of Tupac's life here, as that's what the movie's for. To sum up, he came from humble beginnings, worked his way into the rap industry, and became a self-made millionaire. Unlike many other celebrities, though, Tupac felt a strong need to give back to his community, and was unafraid to call out others who didn't. He did time, he faced racial discrimination, he was wildly successful, and now, over 8 years after his death, he's still one of the most popular rappers in the world.

Personally, I'm pretty picky when it comes to rap music. I like the stuff that falls outside of the norm, like De La Soul, The Roots and Outkast. When I hear some generic rapper going on and on about how much money he has, or how many girls he has, etc. etc., I just get bored. I like my music with lyrics that matter, whatever the genre. Throughout this film, Tupac states his noble intentions over and over, that he wants to end the violence, cleans up the streets, give African Americans a chance to succeed. In fact, most of Tupac: Resurrection is spent trying to convince the viewer that he was a man on a mission, namely helping his fellow man. As his career progresses, though, he seems to be more focused on money, and dissing his former friend, Biggie Smalls. As shown in the movie, he cut a record bragging about having slept with Biggie's wife, then he goes on MTV with Snoop and says the media has blown the East Coast-West Coast beef out of proportion? It's hypocrisy.

There's a couple examples of this in Tupac: Resurrection, but since the filmmakers are so interested in portraying Tupac in a positive light, they're not really discussed. After an women's group protests his (and other rappers) excessive use of "bitch" to describe a female, Tupac goes out his way to explain that not every woman is a bitch, just some of them. This sounds rational enough, until you hear the lyrics of his song (in the next scene, no less!), which are more or less:
"To my bitches on welfare, Tupac understands you, don't nobody else understand you."

To me, this context does not seem to fit his rationale. Oh well. Also, later in the film, after he starts to become a little paranoid that something might happen to him, he says he feels trapped, and he whines a little. Well, engaging in numerous battles with a lot of prideful angry men is a good way to trap yourself, I would say. His murder in unsolved, and will likely remain so indefinitely, but I can't help but feel he brought his tragic end upon himself.

I know that's harsh. What do I know? I'm a white kid from the suburbs. To see Tupac's drop from his idealistic freedom fight, to pretty bickering with another rapper eventually resulting in his death? That's not martyrdom, that's just sad. Nobody deserves to die in the manner he did, and I'm not trying to be cruel here, but the film only presents one side of the story. I don't blame them for that, I mean, would a biography of George W. Bush financed by the GOP highlight his booze and coke days down in Texas? Hell no. So to the detractors of Fahrenheit 9/11 who denounced it as one-sided: you're right. Duh. But so is Tupac: Resurrection, and it got an Oscar nod.

What I would like to see is a doc about the roots of violence in rap music. Why is so cool? Hey, check me out, I have a gun, and you don't. It sounds like the NRA, which would probably lambast any rapper who claimed allegiance to them. Sigh. Anyway, what I got is Tupac: Resurrection, which, while entertaining, did not provide me with the in-depth look into the WHY of Tupac's demise. And I think that WHY is the crucial question for a documentary, so this one gets a C.


The Motorcycle Diaries

Let me preface this by saying I am in no way an expert on Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Cuban Revolution or Latin America. As such, the historical significance of this film is probably lost on me. I know who Che was, I know a little about his life, and I think it's totally badass that he called his executioner a coward before he was shot. Mostly, though, I know him as that guy from the T-shirts. Sad, huh? So I watched The Motorcycle Diaries, a film based on his travels through South America with friend Alberto Granado, from a typical American viewpoint: uninformed. But I'm a quick learner.

I'm winding down my "Must see before the Oscars" list, so I watched The Motorcyle Diaries on DVD right after watching Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, in one marathon session on Sunday. Once I watch Before Sunset, I'll post a double-shot review of both of those. It is funny, though, that the opening title card of Diaries says that the story is of two lives running parallel for a little while, which is exactly what Sunrise is about. Who knew? Anyway...

The Motorcyle Diaries stars Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal as the legendary revolutionary, but not yet. He is still a young man of 23, close to finishing med school, but eager to join his friend Alberto, played by Argentine actor Rodrigio de la Serna, on a motorcycle trip from Buenos Aires to Venezuela, on a quest to see the continent in celebration of Alberto's 30th birthday. I must admit that I figured this setup would get tedious, but since their adventures often take them away from the road, I never got bored. In fact, the further they and the film travelled, the more interested I became. The pair encounter many displaced indigenous peoples, and become increasingly upset at the injustice and hardship that these people suffer. The film never preaches, but it does offer a glimpse into the heart of a young revolutionary. This film's intent is to look into the seeds of Che's evolution from an idealist dreamer to a martyr for communism, and the viewer does really get a sense of what made "Che" out of Ernesto. At a leper colony they volunteer at, he is outraged that the patients live across the river from the staff. He gives a poor homeless couple his only money, instead of buying food or supplies for himself. Et cetera. In writing this down, it seems almost messianic, but Che nevers comes across as holier than thou.

Gael Garcia Bernal gives an exceptional performance considering the immense pressure he must have been under to portray Guevera correctly. Again, I can't judge that, but he brings life and love to a character that could have been a cardboard cutout of the future hero. Even better, though, is de la Serna as Alberto, who straddles the line between sidekick and mentor so well that I am surprised I've never heard of him. He provides comic relief, but more importantly, he provides focus as a second "main" character. Allow me to explain. In Beyond the Sea, Ray, Kinsey, etc., I eventually tired of the main character. Sure, there's some great performances there, but two hours of anybody front and center can get annoying. So The Motorcyle Diaries is a film about Che Guevara, sure, because he's the one that became famous. But it's also Alberto's story, and I think it would work just as well with just him. So a testament to de la Serna's performance is the fact that he made the main character seem redundant. Don't get me wrong, nothing against Bernal, just de la Serna's performance seemed more.. vital.. to me.

The film does have a few flaws, however. The story structure is rather episodic, so just when you get into one story arc, they leave and pick up another. But it is a road movie, so I can't complain about that too much. I just would have liked to have seen more in some areas. Also, the side story with Che's girlfriend in the beginning of the film seems tacked on. I just can't see the intention behind it, maybe it's just me.

Other than those few things, The Motorcycle Diaries is a solid film. I learned from it, which is always a good thing, but it was also greatly entertaining. Adding to my list of overlooked foreign films, along with House of Flying Daggers and A Very Long Engagement, it didn't receive a Oscar nom for Best Foreign Language Film, but deserved one. Oh well. I give it a B.

(As a side note, if you pick up the DVD, make sure to watch the bonus features with the real Alberto Granado, now living in Cuba, where he was invited to work by Che in the 60s. Like the footage of Jamie Foxx with Ray Charles, Harvey Pekar in American Splendor or the end of Schindler's List, seeing the people that the story actually happened adds gravity to the film you've just seen, and this is no exception. Don't miss it.)


Crescent Fresh: The Meaning

For those who aren't in the know, Crescent Fresh was the generic expression of coolness on the totally overlooked and completely genius Sifl and Olly, a late 90's sock puppet comedy show on MTV. Liam Lynch and Matt Crocco basically got a bunch of socks together and made a brilliant half hour of madness. Holsclaw and I watched every single episode of this show my Sophomore year at Carroll.

Anyway, instead of saying something was awesome or great or cool, they would just refer to it as "crescent fresh". I think it was kind of their sarcastic attempt at creating slang, just as kids had picked up slang from other MTV shows like Beavis and Butthead.

I just like the way it sounds, and if you immediately recognize it, it means you watched Sifl and Olly, and you're automatically crescent fresh in my book.

BTW, my Xbox Live gamertag is CrescentFresh13. Come frag my sorry ass in Halo 2.

Personal notes, on a blog? No way!

So I've been busy reviewing movies, I haven't said what I've been doing.

Not much.

Well, Kelsey and I went to Madison, and we saw A Very Long Engagement, but we also saw Eric and Tina. That was hella fun. I miss them. I mean, I only live an hour away, I should really see them more. I finally got to see their wedding photos, which were amazing, and we got to hang out with the cats. Spenser loves me. Either that, or he just loves whoever is sitting on the couch that he can lean against. Yeah, that's more likely. So they might come out here for the Oscars, which would be really cool, as last year it was just Holly and I, and the Super Bowl was just Kelsey and I. Parties are hard to do when everyone works Sundays.

Super Bowl was fairly uneventful. I liked when Burt Reynolds got kicked in the crotch, especially since it was by a guy in a bear suit. That's why Trigger Happy TV is so brilliant, because it has guys in animal suits running around causing havoc. Yeah, I know it's juvenile, but it's funny. The game was kinda blah. I guess I was rooting for the Patriots, since I hate Philly, but I would have been okay either way.

It's inventory week at the HV, and I just want it to end. We're down to 6 people, as Mark just stopped showing up for work, so "he gone". We're okay, since they're rolling back our hours to 10 pm closing. It'll be just like old times at Tosa, working a 2-11 to close. Yay. I am going to hire maybe two more people, though, just to be safe.

Jim left me like 10 voicemails this week reminding me about my review session at 3 pm on Thursday, and then the 11th voicemail said they'd cancelled the reviews. Doh. I was all psyched up for it, too. They're just going to reschedule them for a couple weeks from now, most likely on my day off, just to throw me off.

Other than that, things are pretty normal. I've been getting updates from Japan from Greg's friend Ben, and it makes me want to go there. I don't speak any Japanese, but their culture is just so different from ours, it would be a great learning trip. Remind me how big the world is.

It's now 3:33 in the am. I'm going to go to sleep, or thereabouts. Night.

Saw is fun! I like pointy things!

This is a Cube type situation where I am very willing to overlook certain flaws in a movie, since the concept is just so original. Cube, of course, is the 1998 Canadian sci-fi film where a bunch of strangers wake up in a cube-shaped room, and try to figure out how to escape. Interestingly enough, Saw is the 2004 Aussie-conceived horror film where two strangers wake up in a dingy room, and try to figure out how to escape. Hmm.. I didn't think about this before I started typing about it. Bizarre.

Anyway, Cube is great, though flawed, and same goes for Saw. I'm not reviewing Cube here, so I'll shut up about it. Just watch it, if you haven't already. Saw is definitely a style over substance film, just like some of David Fincher's work, which is good, or Pitof's Catwoman, which is very, very bad. While Saw is not a great overall film, like Silence of the Lambs, or a neo-noir classic like Se7en, it is a fun flick that kept me on the edge of my seat, which is hard to do.

I watched the DVD of Saw, just by myself. I had wanted to catch in the theater, but just never got around to it. Plus, I had heard it compared to what I call the "new slashers" such as Jeepers Creepers, the Texas Chainsaw remake, Final Destination, etc., which invariably suck. Give me Ju-on any day. But I was very surprised by Saw, at the originality of the creators, Director James Wan and Screenwriter/Star Leigh Whannell. This is the first movie for both, and it shows, but I nevertheless have high expectations for any future projects from the duo.

I should explain the plot a bit. Basically, Adam and Lawrence, two seemingly unrelated guys, wake up on opposite ends of the same enclosed room, both securely chained at the ankle to large pipes. There is a body in the middle of the room, holding a tape recorder and a gun. They receive instructions that if Lawrence wants his family to live, he must kill Adam. Things go from there, both in real-time, and in flashbacks detailing the mastermind's previous exploits. This is a simple setup, but it does provide a great deal of tension. The "Jigsaw" character seems to rely on a Rube Goldberg-meets-Catch 22 approach, but hey, it works for him.

Now the flaw that I spoke of is the acting. EVERYBODY OVERACTS!!!! I'M DOING IT RIGHT NOW!!! LOUD NOISES!!!!!! Now I can't expect Cary Elwes to do his best Wesley here, but a more seasoned director would have found ways to tone down the screaming and yelling, while maintaining the emotion. Danny Glover is the worst offender, as he plays a cop like every other cop in movie history, and then plays an ex-cop like a raving lunatic. Oh boy.

You could dismiss saw as another music video posing as a movie, and a cheap way to make a couple bucks, both of which are probably true. But sometimes style is good, and it can overcome weak performances and a little convuluted storytelling. So Saw gets a B, and I get a fun two hours. Good trade.

Hitch.. Finally.

Ok, so I so Hitch last week Wednesday, and I just put off doing the review until now, just cuz I wasn't really motivated to write a puff piece about a puff piece. Kelsey got a free pass from work, so we went to see it, both of us agreeing that it's not a movie we would've have paid to see, even before we saw it. So here's my attempt an unbiased opinion.

Let me make this perfectly clear, to start with:


So much for the unbiased opinion. I just dislike, in general, the overall attitude they present. Boy meets girl, or vice versa, wackiness ensues, and eventually they make out to the strains of the Goo Goo Dolls or similar Adult Contemporary artist. The studios have a cookie cutter formula with which they can make money, and more power to them, but where is the drama? For example, when I saw How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, at the theater no less, there was a scene near the end where Matthew McConaughey is racing to tell Kate Hudson he loves her, on his bike, and he veers dangerously close to an oncoming bus. I thought to myself, how great would it be if he got hit, and the movie ended. Just to throw the audience off. Now that's be a good romantic comedy!

As for why I saw that movie in the theater, well, I think i was influenced by a certain sexy blonde who wanted to see it. I'm a sucker.

Anyway, Hitch. Granted it was free, and Will Smith is a helluva funny guy, but it is just another product of the studio's RomCom MegaScripter (v. 2.0). Will Smith plays a "date doctor" who counsels insecure men into attaining the loves of their lives. Noble cause, yes? Well, not so says Eva Mendes, who plays the inevitable untouchable woman, also a gossip columnist with a scorned friend who misunderstands any number of things. Basically everybody misunderstands each other, then they lie to each other, then realize they love each other, then make out. I don't need a more detailed plot summary than that.

Like I said before, Will Smith is funny. Scarily enough, this is his first starring role in a straight comedy, not a slash comedy, as in action/comedy or sci-fi/comedy. Hard to believe, isn't it? He really gets the chance to shine here, as the film is really a showcase for his talent as a both a physical comedian and a straight man, in his scenes with Kevin James. In an episodic style that actually kinda works, dozens of Hitch's clients are shuffled through the movie, and we see him work his magic. James, though, is his toughest challenge, as a shlub financial analyst with his heart set on the socialite darling of New York. Will Hitch succeed? Do I care?

With all the movies I own, I have two romantic comedies: High Fidelity and Keeping the Faith. Both do, in ways, fall into the RomCom mold, but High Fidelity features Jack Black's breakthrough performance and stunning rendition of "Let's Get it On". Keeping the Faith is just funny enough to make me like it. Hitch is, unfortunately, not. It falls back on the same grand speeches about love and outrageous mishaps that have turned me off of a whole subgenre of film. Hitch gets a C, and if Will Smith wasn't in it, drop that to an F.


A Very Long Trip.. For A Very Long Engagement

Ok, so it's not that long a trip, but Kelsey and I went out to Madison to see A Very Long Engagement, or as the French would say Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles, but since I don't speak French, and do not wish to butcher their language, I'll just use the English title, if you don't mind. It stopped playing here in Milwaukee about two weeks ago, just as I realized it was actually playing here. Luckily, since it's Oscar-nominated, Marcus Westgate Art Cinemas still had it, and I had a day off to make the trek. I make it sound like a journey of days, when it really just takes a little over an hour. Overdramatic.

Anyway, this was the movie to blow me away this Oscar season. Granted, I still have a couple to see, but last year when I saw In America, it left me wowed, and so did A Very Long Engagement. I told Kelsey I would vote for this film over any of the Best Picture noms (Ray, Finding Neverland, The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby & Sideways), and I stand by that remark upon further reflection. While Engagement did get a couple noms for Art Direction and Cinematography, both deserved, it didn't get a nom for Foreign Language Film, ala House of Flying Daggers, and I would have probably given some consideration to Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Best Director. But here I am on a tangent before I even get to the movie. Here we go.

Engagement is at first glance a war picture. It is violent on a Saving Private Ryan level, only in smaller doses. Even as the shells fall and the bullets fly by, though, a love story emerges, told mainly in flashback and fancy. Set in France circa World War I, it is the story of Mathilde (Audrey Tautou), a polio-survivor orphan who searches relentlessly for her fiancee, a soldier reportedly executed at the front for mutilating himself in an attempt to be sent home. The film sets up each character's backstory, and then lets the mystery unfold: whether her Manech is really dead. While all evidence and popular opinion suggest she should give up hope, her relentless optimism and determination lead her closer and closer to the truth, good or bad.

Whether the film is good or bad is irrelevant to this fact: Audrey Tautou is adorable. She has a combination of talent and beauty that is probably unmatched by any American mainstream actress. OK, Natalie Portman comes close, although she can be wooden in the Star Wars films, which really is Lucas' fault. Sorry, Tim, it's true. Anyway, Amelie, Dirty Pretty Things, L'Auberge Espagnole, anything I've seen Audrey Tautou in, she's been amazing, and although I am worried about her Hollywood debut with The Da Vinci Code, I'll probably go see the movie just because she's in it. A Very Long Engagement is no exception. Her performance is both moving and subtle, a hard combination to pull off. This could have easily turned into a melodrama along the lines of Captain Corelli's Mandolin (crap) or Pearl Harbor (crap and a half), but a combination of Tautou's wonderfully understated performance and Jeunet's virtuoso direction kept Engagement a beautiful and unique snowflake. (Thanks, Tyler.)

Speaking of Jeunet, he again proves his genius, as previously evidenced in Amelie and City of Lost Children, and not so much evidenced in Alien: Resurrection. (All I can say about that is he didn't write the Resurrection script, blame Buffy creator Joss Whedon for that. Bastard.) Every frame of Engagement is interesting, photographed in a way that had me simultaneously amazed and jealous. It's a very, very pretty picture. His ensemble cast, including Jeunet regular and funny-looking guy Dominique Pinion, is perfectly at home in his vision of WWI France, and while the film retain's Jeunet's whimsical touches, it is firmly rooted in its historical reality.

Best of all, the film is subtle. The reason I have such a firm dislike for romatic comedies is that they tend to hit you over the head with their "message" over and over again. Example being Hitch (review coming soon), where it's a funny flick, but there is so many speeches and speeches and speeches about the nature of love and blah blah blah. Engagement shows you what love is, rather than just talk about it. The French know love. Americans know how to blow shit up. Sad but true.

Like I said before, I would vote for A Very Long Engagement for Best Picture, were I an Academy voter, and were it on the ballot. As it is, neither is true, so the best I can do it give it an A. I hope that helps. Call me, Audrey!


Million Dollar Baby

So I've been slacking in my movie watching as of late, so today you get a double shot of reviews, albeit in seperate posts. You'll deal.

First up is Million Dollar Baby. Kelsey and I went to see this on Tuesday at AMC Mayfair. It was the first time I'd been to that theater in a while, and I now remember why. I don't know how, but they always make the stupidest people sit right by me. I think I pissed off their manager, and now they bring in ringers to talk incessantly and annoy me in general. But I digress.

Million Dollar Baby is the latest release from the house of Eastwood. Clint wrote, directed, starred in, composed, edited, spliced, diced, produced, reduced and infused this film; his influence is all over it. Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank also had something to do with it. I went into the movie knowing it had received umpteen Oscar nominations, and would probably remind me of Mystic River, last year's somewhat interesting Eastwood flick. Sure enough, when I left, I understood the noms and I had that Mystic-y River-y taste in my mouth.

To be more succinct, Clint Eastwood thinks he's really important, much more important than I think he is. Every pan of the camera, every forced monologue about aging, and every note of the score is meant to be IMPORTANT, to engage the viewer, and, for me anyway, this emotional overkill distracts from what otherwise might be a great story. And while Million Dollar Baby is a good film, it's not great. I can accept most of the nominations the film received, especially in what seems like a lightweight year for Oscar, but how Clint got a Best Actor nod, over Paul Giamatti in Sideways, is beyond me. To me, Eastwood always plays the same character. He furrows his brow and grits his teeth and says his line. Save one emotional breakdown in front of a priest, I don't not see any significant character evolution throughout the film, even though massive changes take place. Some would call this subtlety, I call it limited range. I guess I don't like Clint Eastwood for the same reason I don't like John Wayne, or (sorry Dad) Humphrey Bogart. All of their films that I've seen, they play the same character, the brooding tough guy. I would love to see Eastwood play a weakling, or Bogie play a coward. I could have just missed these performances, so don't hate me if I'm forgetting something.

Anwyay, Million Dollar Baby. I got off on sort of a tangent there. Eastwood plays a boxing trainer, Freeman his friend and assistant, and Swank the plucky young female boxer with a dream. After Eastwood reluctantly agrees to train "a girl", her dedication moves her up in the ranks, and her rise to success is the story of the film. Sort of. I'm try to be spoiler-free, so you should too. Suffice it to say that the movie takes one the most unexpected turns since The Sixth Sense, and becomes an almost completely different film. I think I like the first part better though, as it is less preachy.

Hilary Swank reminds me again that when she gets a good part, she will transform herself into that character. I totally bought into her Missouri-drawl country girl, and like Boys Don't Cry, made me forget I was watching an actor. Eastwood played himself, and Morgan Freeman, another monotonous part-picker, played the archetypical Freeman character: the wise old owl. I can remember a time, though, when Freeman had great parts, like in Driving Miss Daisy or Glory, but he now seems relegated to the world of supporting wiseman. Bust out the frankincense.

All these elements blended together made a pretty good flick, albeit a flawed one. I'm sure it'll win a couple awards, although I'll probably pick it for none. There were better performances, better directing, a better script. Million Dollar Baby is a decent movie. It gets a B for boxing.


A vs. B vs. C vs. D vs. E

Same old, same old. I'll use this off day to lay out my theory on the 5 coolest things ever. Here we go. Mind you this is written in the voice of a 10 year old, ala Real Ultimate Power.

The Five Coolest Things Ever, a list in no particular order
By Brent Jensen

Number one: Zombies
I mean, come on. They're zombies! How can you not love them? They are the living dead, and they come in both fast moving (28 Days Later) and slow moving (Night of the Living Dead) varities. They eat brains, just like those guys in Temple of Doom, but these are human brains! They're crazy! Plus, if I walk like a slow zombie towards Jessie at work, she starts screaming her head off and runs away. Awesome!

Number two: Ninjas
My name is Brent and I can't stop thinking about ninjas. These guys are cool; and by cool, I mean totally sweet. Ninjas will flip out and chop your head off if you look at them wrong! They get badass weapons like Ninja Stars and Nunchucks and Bo Staffs. They can sneak up on you in the dead of night and stab you before you can hear a pin drop! Ninjas also enjoy their leisure time, as all work and no play make ninjas stab you twice! They like quilting, pilates, wailing on electric guitars, and slicing. If a ninja ever ran for president, I would vote for him the maximum number of times allowed by the law.

Number three: Robots
Robots can straight out do anything. Do you need your calculus homework done, with the work shown? Do you need a practice partner for your breakdance and battle rap skillz? How about a toaster pastry? Robots, robots, robots. Best of all, robots have no emotions, so if you get mad and call them stupid, they won't be mad at you, like your real friends. Robots will one day rule the world, like in The Matrix, so if you can get in on the ground floor, and befriend a robot today, perhaps you will be spared from some of the more grisly tortures our Machine Masters will surely inflict. Love a Robot, Love the World! (tm)

Number four: Monkeys
The noble and proud monkey is the true king of the jungle. Screw lions! They're all voiced by Matthew Broderick! Monkeys do not care about you or your problems. They care about bananas, and hanging out. That's it. They're kinda like the stoners of the animal kingdom. They just chill. Monkeys have prehensile tails, and they can use their feet as hands! How messed up is that? Plus, if you piss them off, they will throw their crap at you!! How many people do you know who will do that? Seriously, if you know any, let me know.

Number five: Pirates
Pirates sail the seven seas, and drink rum, and loot and pillage all the livelong day. That is the life. You get to fight, and be dirty, and get a pegleg and eyepatch, and basically make a nuisance of yourself for your whole life! Pirates are the most respected and feared of all seafarers, since they will carve you up with a cutlass if you give them any lip. Now, I have been told by certain pieces of fashion apparel that pirates and ninjas do not get along, and my list is therefore flawed. I think they're flawed!!! Pirates and ninjas could definitely trade rounds of spiced rum and sake, and tell many a tale together at the local pub, without resorting to violence. I think.

These are the five coolest things ever. If you are able to combine any two of them you will have a pretty damn cool concept for a movie, TV show or concept album. Examples follow:

Robot Ninja, Ninja Zombie, Zombie Robot, Pirate Monkey, Monkey Robot, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

If you are able to combine three, you will have a certain blockbuster, i.e. Pirates of the Caribbean, which has a Zombie Pirate Monkey.

If all five things were ever combined, however, the world would quite possibly implode from the sheer force of the sweetness surrounding said event.

In summary, these are the five coolest things ever. Use them wisely, and pass them on to your kin. One day, you will thank me.