Archive for March 7th, 2010

Oscarpalooza: Previews and Predictions

Even though Cablevision’s dispute with ABC means that I, along with several other million people in the NY-NJ area, will not be able to watch the Oscars, NPI’s Oscarpalooza carries on with previews and predictions. Of course, I am not a movie critic and, thus, have not seen all the movies nominated. Nor do I care about the majority of awards. So much of what makes the Academy Awards interesting to casual movie fans, though, is how a cottage industry of diviners and predictive pseudo-sciences has sprung up in response to the awards. Thanks to innumerable “Best Of” lists and predictive “secondary” awards like the SAGs or the Golden Globes, most people feel like they have a good idea of, say, Meryl Streep’s performance in Julie & Julia, whether or not they have seen it. Sifting through the critical white noise has become something of an art, and I’m offering my services so that those of you who would rather not watch Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin chaperone a four-hour self-congratulatory love-fest (or those of you who have Cablevision and simply have no choice), don’t have to watch to see who wins the eight major awards.

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Oscarpalooza: Avatar: Different Planet, Same Story

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI is rerunning its reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, John S doesn’t buy into the Avatar hype:

The first 20-30 minutes of Avatar are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. The entire movie takes place on a planet, Pandora, that James Cameron essentially built from scratch and special effects. The closest analog I can come up with for this type of visual creation is the island part of King Kong, but Merian C. Cooper was working with slightly less technology. And even in Peter Jackson’s recent remake, with its gripping use of CGI, we were still dealing with large gorillas and dinosaurs… you know, things that are real.

Pandora’s not like that. Everything is made up, from the plant life to the small animals to the large predators to the indigenous population of humanoids, called the Na’vi. This also doesn’t include the human technologies portrayed in the film, which run from typical “this-is-taking-place-in-the-future” signifiers like extensive use of holograms and things that hover, to more extreme modifications of aircrafts and weaponry. In short, Cameron has done an excellent job creating an entire world. The visual elements of this world, thanks both to their natural richness and the 3-D enhancements, are stunning, and the first act’s introduction of Pandora and its inhabitants is engrossing.

After that, though, you might as well walk out, because there isn’t much story to speak of. Cameron, in his first film since the overwhelmingly successful Titanic, showcases his juvenile sense of dialogue, character, and story over and over again. Continue reading

Oscarpalooza: Not So Up in the Air

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI is rerunning its reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, Josh shares his disappointment with Up in the Air:

I was very excited to see Up in the Air. I like George Clooney. As a reader of View From the Wing and a (quite inactive) member of FlyerTalk, I’m intrigued by the whole frequent-flier culture: I’m almost on my second free flight through Southwest Rapid Rewards, although I’m a little irked that they terminated their very lucrative double credit College Rapid Rewards Program. And, I thought writer/director Jason Reitman’s two previous films, Juno and Thank You For Smoking, were both excellent. Plus, 91 percent of the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes approve of Up in the Air and it’s been nominated for six Golden Globes, including Best Picture.


In his review, Roger Ebert explains: “This isn’t a comedy. If it were, it would be hard to laugh in these last days of 2009. Nor is it a tragedy. It’s an observant look at how a man does a job.” Ebert’s mostly right: Everything gets called a comedy, but this certainly isn’t one: Even Zach Galifianakis’s scene isn’t really that funny. However, I think it’s a little more than a look at how Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a “career transition” counselor (in other words, a professional firer) and frequent-flier, does his job. There’s significant focus on the character development of Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent-flier and lady-of-the-sky for Ryan, and Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a brainy and super-organized Cornell grad who moves to Omaha (where Ryan’s company is centered) with her boyfriend and brings new ideas with her to the company. Continue reading

Oscarpalooza: Inglourious Basterds

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI will be rerunning its reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, John S praises Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds:

inglourious basterds

Of all directors currently making movies, Quentin Tarantino is by far the most interested in movies themselves. All of his films include specific allusions, both in subject and style, to obscure movies, and they often work within the conventions of very refined genres. His latest work, Inglourious Basterds, is supposedly both a war movie (sorry, Josh and Tim) and a “spaghetti western,” as well as Tarantino’s homage to The Dirty Dozen. Whatever that means, it is really, really good.

Given Tarantino’s infatuation with cinema, it comes as no surprise that the climax of Basterds takes place in a movie theater. The “Basterds” of Basterds—a ragtag group of American Jews who (in case you haven’t seen the previews) like to kill “gnatzees” for their leader Brad Pitt—have chosen this spot for an attempted assassination of the crème de la crème of the Third Reich as they gather to watch Joseph Goebbels’ latest propaganda flick, A Nation’s Pride. Continue reading

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