Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2009!

With 2 days to go I thought it was time to finalize my Oscar picks for this year. Like I’ve said before I’m going in with a certain percentage of guts, wild guessing, and a bit of internet research. The last few years I’ve gotten the same score – 13 out of 24 so don’t think I’m talking like I’m any expert. Far from it but here goes anyway:


It looks like this or THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON will win. Im going with this because the buzz seems stronger and more genuine.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle

3. BEST ACTOR: Mickey Rourke – I believe this will happen but its a personal choice as well. His acceptance speech is sure to be a tearjerker. Ill probably be all cried out from his interview with Barbara Walters earlier in the evening by then though.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Kate Winslet

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger – It will indeed be extremely shocking if this doesnt happen. Seems like even if not for his incredibly untimely demise, Ledger would still pick the winning card.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Penelope Cruz – feels like there may be a major surprise in this category but Im going with Cruz, again for personal reasons.

And the rest:



17. ANIMATED SHORT: PRESTO – This is the only one Ive seen (its the only many have seen since it was at the beginning of WALL-E) but it seems to have the edge.



Okay! Check back on Monday to see how many I got wrong.

More later…

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: The Film Babble Blog Review

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Dir. Sam Mendes, 2008)

The set-up is surefire and swift – boy (Leoanardo DiCaprio) meets girl (Kate Winslet) at an hip apartment party in the late 40’s with the backdrop of bright lights, big city. Before you know it they are married and living in Connecticut with 2 kids and the cookie cutter conformity of the mid ‘50’s is in full bloom. Winslet as April Wheeler, dreams of being an actress but after a particularly bad off-off-off-Broadway performance her husband Frank has discouraging words. “I guess it wasnt exactly a triumph or anything, was it?” he says in a severely misguided attempt to comfort her. A vicious verbal fight results on the way home, one of many that make up this film, with raging resentments busting out into the cold open air.

DiCaprio as a bored cog working the same job (salesman at a computer company) his father did for life draining decades longs for much more as well, and a afternoon quickie with a young secretary (Zoe Kazan) does little to remedy his situation. Winslet upon his return home that guilty day, though is seemingly rejuvenated. She has come to what she sees as a revelation – they should pack up and move to Paris, while they’re still young, and that will surely rekindle the fading spark in their relationship.

At first, DiCaprio is skeptical but he slowly takes to the idea. His co-workers (including Dylan Baker and Max Casella) and their close friend neighbors (David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn) think the idea is immature but our determined protagonists stick to their guns, that is, until a possible job advancement and an unplanned pregnancy come knockin’.

Though it’s exquisitely made and acted, REVOULTIONARY ROAD suffers from being well trodden ground. Many times before have we seen a “little boy lost in a big man’s shirt” (as Elvis Costello would say) having to blend in with the other suits and ties on a train platform on their way to work in the city.

The oppressive endless clusters of cubicles surrounding DiCaprio in his workplace contrasted with the lined up trash cans in the bland ‘burbs that are crushing Winslet’s spirit unfortunately come off as overdone clichés. The same thematic elements are handled infinitely better on any given episode of Mad Men – the AMC produced show about advertising executives in the early 60’s that IMHO is one of the best shows of the last decade. Surprisingly Creator Matthew Wiener revealed to an interviewer that he hadn’t read the 1961 Richard Yates book “Revolutionary Road” the movie was obviously based on before embarking on Mad Men but tellingly he stated: “If I had read this book before I wrote the show, I never would have written the show.”

Despite the undeniable chemistry between DiCaprio and Winslet, the scenes that really ignite the screen involve Michael Shannon as the son of real estate agent (an uncharacteristically subdued Kathy Bates who was also in TITANIC with Dicaprio and Winslet, by the way). Bates wants her son to meet the young seemingly stable couple as means to inspire him when he’s on a pass from mental institution. He sums them up immediately: “You want to play house, you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you got to have a job you don’t like. Anyone comes along and asks “Whaddya do it for?’ he’s probably on a four-hour pass from the State funny farm.”

Shannon, though bereft of charm and equipped with an exceedingly sharp creepy edge, is the character who is the most free and the most bluntly honest – therefore a solid spot of comic relief. He has no need for politeness or disposable small talk, so when DiCaprio speaks of running away from the “hopeless emptiness” of their life there, Shannon is the only one who understands and even encourages them. Sadly, too much of the films pace plods and the energy of Shannon’s scenes is swamped aside by too many painful argument set pieces. Wasn’t exactly a triumph, indeed.

More later…

Prestiege Period Piece Pontifications: DOUBT, VALKYRIE, and THE READER

Awards season is officially upon us so I’ve been trying to catch up with all the heavy hitters. Its difficult because a few films haven’t even come to my area yet (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, THE WRESTLER). Thats why a best of 2008 list will have to wait for those whove emailed me asking where it is. In the meantime though, here’s 3 much talked about movies that I have caught up with:

DOUBT (Dir. John Patrick Shanley, 2008)

“Where’s your compassion?” an exasperated Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) bellows at Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep). “Nowhere you can get at it” she sternly and coldly responds. The unflinching Principal at St. Nicholas in the Bronx is dead certain that the Priest, new to the Parrish, is guilty of an inappropriate relationship with an alter boy (Joseph Foster) who is the school’s only African American. Hoffman’s Father Flynn is accessible, easy-going, and feels the church should be “friendlier” which is all in direct opposition to Streep’s ball busting Beauvier who states: “Every easy choice today will have its consequence tomorrow.” Hoffman exhaustingly maintains that he is innocent and refuses to go into detail claiming it was a private matter he discussed with the boy in the rectory, but Streep, based on the snooping reports of Sister James (Amy Adams), will not back down.

Set in 1964, DOUBT is a fairly small scale film. It has a small cast and spare locations with most scenes featuring one-on-one confrontations. What’s big here is the performances. A showdown between great actors is center stage which is fitting because it is based on Shanley’s Tony Award winning off-Broadway play. Though it’s mostly Streep and Hoffman’s show, Viola Davis as the boy in question’s mother has a heartbreaking scene with Streep that undoubtedly should get her nominated for an Oscar. That she appears for only a few minutes should not disqualify – Beatrice Straight took home the award for an equally short amount of valuable screen-time in NETWORK (1976). The amicable Adams has third billing but she does not emotionally stir up the proceedings like Davis does.

There are no shocking revelations or twists in DOUBT and no formulaic liberties are taken. It is simply the no-frills straight telling of a disturbing dilemma with a spotlight on oppressive Mother Superiority. Hoffman, having made no sketchy career choices of late (following the superb BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD with the wondrous SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK and then this), confirms he’s one of the top actors working today while Streep adds another notable notch to her distinguished filmography. Shanley’s screenplay serves them well although the brisk summing-up ending left me more than a little dry. Small quibble though, DOUBT delivers a sharp showcase of ace acting chops and while I doubt (sorry) it’ll take home much gold in the current competition it’ll still win over many fans of powerful performances.

VALKYRIE (Dir. Bryan Singer, 2008)

Recalling THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER in its opening translation transition, VALKRIE begins in German but the titles and Tom Cruise’s voice-over reciting of a letter he’s writing slowly but fluidly morph into English. In this mini-epic (that is compared to the scale of Singer’s X-MEN or SUPERMAN RETURNS) based on true events from 1945, Cruise portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg who joins a group of Generals and Counselors in a plot to assassinate Hitler (played by British stage actor David Bramber) and restore Germany’s world standing. Among the plotters are such talented thespians as Kenneth Branaugh, Kevin McNally, Christian Berkel, David Schofield, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, and oddly enough quirky comedian Eddie Izzard. As a possible roadblock to their resistance is the always reliable Tom Wilkinson as Officer Fredrich Fromm.

The film takes its name from Operation Valkyrie, a plan that uses the Reserve Army to keep amongst the Germany country should Hitler’s communication be disrupted, or should Hitler be killed. Cruise as Stauffenberg, wears an eye patch and is missing his right hand from an Allied attack in Tunisia that opens the film, is fiercely focused and he exhibits none of his trademark glibness – at no point does he flash his blinding grin. I know those who despise the man for his couch jumping, Scientology spouting, and cringe-inducing cocky demeanor but only a stoic dedication to the role is on display here. He holds his own with the mostly male ensemble and shares a few nice moments with Carice von Hauten (who stared in another World War II drama – BLACK BOOK) as his wife.

It says a lot when a film can trigger tense suspense in a scene that involves getting the Fürer’s signature on a rewritten order and in several other key set-pieces just a step away from minutiae mundanity. It’s also noteworthy that the actors, instructed to talk in neutral accents by Singer, all work well together. The most precise performance I’ve witnessed yet from Nighy, while workhorse vets like Brannaugh and Wilkinson both make uneasiness an acting art form. Reportedly this is faithful to the historic record and that should come as a surprise to those who have a generalized overview of the era. While by no means a masterpiece, VALKYRIE is extremely engaging entertainment that highlights its humanity without using broad strokes. I only hope anti-Cruise folks will lose their bias and give it a chance. It would be a shame for such a solid story and production to be gratuitously overlooked.

THE READER (Dir. Stephen Daldry, 2008)

A few days ago Kate Winslet won Golden Globes for both this film and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. The second time up to the podium she was shocked in a Sally Fieldian way as she blubbered through a unprepared acceptance speech. As a presenter afterwards, Ricky Gervais called out to her: “I told you – do a Holocaust movie, the awards come, didn’t I?” Referring to her self satirical appearance on his show Extras. Of course that’s just a joke and it’s too cynical for this movie’s material but it still stings because I didn’t feel for this film and its characters like I wanted too. Winslet, bereft of the bouncy charm she brought to her roles in films like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and THE HOLIDAY, plays Hanna Schmitz – a former guard at Auschwitz who has an affair (David Kross) with a boy half her age. The story is told from the point of view of the boy as he grows up into a weary troubled Ralph Fiennes.

The film proper begins in 1995, flashbacks to 1958 when the relationship began, then to 1966 with Kross finding Winslet on trial and onward to the late 80’s. Winslet, who had Kross read many classic books (“The Odyssey”, “Huckleberry Finn”, etc) in bed, bath but not beyond to her, is illiterate and conceals this even though it jeopardizes her freedom. This is an intriguing premise but unfortunately there is too little chemistry between Winslet and Kross and later Fiennes for the strong emotional pull the film severely needs. The narrative craft and chops are there but the urgency and sense of purpose seems, at best, muted. The context of the horrors of World War II do not need to be re-stated but here the trappings and effect on millions are absent leaving only the concerns of these 2 fairly dull people. And that, like the man once said in a far more worthy effort, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

More later…

An Orson Welles Wannabe Responds

I got some cool comments on my post A Birthday Tribute To Orson Welles With 10 Welles Wannabes (May 5, 2008) but the one that really takes the cake is from one of the Orsons – #10. Jean Guérin to be exact. I had written that I could find very little info about Guérin’s 2 performances of Welles in HEAVENLY CREATURES and LA VENGEANCE DE LA FEMME EN NOIR so it is great to get it right from the source. Here’s what he wrote along with a few great photos he sent along as well:



Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jean Guérin. I am a film teacher/writer/actor residing in Montreal, Canada.

Recently, I was alerted to your blog’s posting regarding fake Orsons where I made #10.

Thank you for giving me credit. A recently published book states that Peter Jackson used computer technology to bring Orson back to life. Seems I don’t exist but am some sort of virtual construct.
Coincidentally, this pic was taken on OW’s birthday 15 years ago.

Creatures was a silent part in a fantasy sequence. Jackson & Walsh recruited me at a film festival in Montreal, where I had volunteered to drive them around. I wasn’t an actor at the time. I got teased a lot in film school about my resemblance to OW but hadn’t heard it in a few years until Fran Walsh brought it up. Originally, the plan was to pull OW out of footage of The Third Man but PJ found himself limited in his action choices.Our chance meeting not only saved the scene but enabled Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to play with it and expand on it.

The scene involves notorious teenage lesbian schoolgirl murderers Parker and Hulme, played by Kate Winslet and Melanie Linskey going to see The Third Man and pretending Orson is stalking them outside the theatre. They run home where Mel morphs into Orson and seduces Kate (technically making me the first guy to kiss Kate Winslet in a movie).

In order to further the illusion, PJ made OW “monochrome” and shot close-ups of me to substitute for those of OW in the Third Man footage. As a film buff, this was totally cool. Especially when I got to shoot “M” (Bernard Lee).

The subterfuge worked. At the 1994 Venice film festival , Robert Zemeckis approached PJ to ask him how he managed to do the reverse of what he had done in Forest Gump. It was an ice breaker which led to RZ producing PJ’s next feature, The Frighteners.

The best part of working on the film is that no one believes it. On occasion, I do get a student inquiring if it’s me and I tend to brush it off by saying “I get that a lot”.

I do get a great kick out of mentioning the movie in a context where people think I’m joking and/or won’t believe me. “The director of Lord of the Rings flew me to New-Zealand to play Orson Welles in a lesbian love scene with Kate Winslet”. When you phrase it like that- who would?

As a lifelong Orson buff, this remains one of the best experiences of my life.

The same cannot be said of my other Orson portrayal.

La Vengeance De La Femme En Noir is a 1997 Quebec production directed by Roger Cantin. It is a sequel to his popular L’Assassin Jouait Du Trombone.

Again, Orson is used as a figment of the character’s imagination. In the film,the main character Marleau (Germain Houde), imagines his conscience (himself) talking to him. In the climax, his conscience abandons him, leaving “Harry Lime” in his place. It was supposed to explain the character’s change of heart in the unfilmed sequel. Only a few people got the reference , and even then, it’s because the director explained it to them personally. The film is full of visual references to classic film noirs which are wasted in this broad humour farce.

The film is in French. Despite doing a really good Orson voice (deviated septum and all), I was re-dubbed over because Welles’ real voice is not familiar to French speaking audiences. The result is awful, with Orson sounding Haitian. The director has since apologized for the choice but the damage is done and the scene is a cringer- especially to Orson buffs.

Fortunately, the film played less than a week theatrically and was never released on DVD. It does show up on late-night cable in Quebec from time to time to haunt me.

On the practical side, it allowed me to break into the local actor’s union.

However, it does give me the distinction of having played OW twice and in two languages.

I actually played OW a third time on a segment of a local magazine show where I finally got to do the voice.

Hope this was informative or at least entertaining.

Jean Guérin


Wow, that indeed was incredibly informative and extremely entertaining! I emailed Mr. Guérin to thank him for writing and ask for his permission to post it here which he nicely allowed. He also added that in the color photo above he had “prosthetic makeup on this film which made me look more like Karl Malden as the day progressed. The New Zealand make-up artist did way better with stage makeup than all that rubber.”

Man, what it takes to recreate Welles!

More later…

The Failure Of The ALL THE KING’S MEN Remake

The IMDB reported this the other day –

“Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Steve Zaillian was clearly stunned by the critical and box-office failure of his latest film,
ALL THE KING’S MEN, which opened with only $3.8 million in its debut and fell out of the top-ten in its second weekend. Zaillian told the Los Angeles Times that it was “like getting hit by a truck. … I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe down the road I’ll figure it out”.

Well maybe I can help figure it out – Since it is leaving my home town theater after a barely attended 2 ween run I decided to see the movie last night and it is one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen!! Not since I almost went into a coma watching HOFFA has my time in the theater been so deadly dull. Hard to say exactly where Zaillian and crew went wrong – it is well photographed, the screenplay hits the right points, and the cast is A-list (Sean Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, etc.) – it just doesn’t work. Most critics have blamed Sean Penn’s overwrought performance and yes it is true he does deserve to be one of the patients in Monty Python’s Hospital For The Over-Acting sketch but the blame lies elsewhere I believe.

I got the original 1949 version of ALL THE KING’S MEN (Dir. Robert Rossen) from Netflix and watched it this morning. It had won the best picture Oscar and for good reason – it is a good well crafted interesting exercise in good taste and restraint. Everything the re-make tries in vain for the original accomplishes with much more class. I’ll take Broderick Crawford’s believably flawed Willie Stark over Sean Penn’s wretched over-the-top spastic Willie Stark any day.

So it was just another unnecessary remake. I can’t think of one worthwhile remake that has been produced lately. Can you?

More later…