Monday, February 28, 2005

The Aftermath: Post-Oscar Analysis '05

Unfortunately, another Academy Awards have passed containing barely any surprises at all. Anticipating Chris Rock as being a “controversial” emcee, proved to be of no consequence. Although he did spice up the show (somewhat), he did not do or say anything surprising and/or memorable. Furthermore, with a vast majority of the favorites going home happy, the most unexpected moments of the night occurred with the anticlimactic announcements of both the “Adapted Screenplay” and the “Original Song” awards. However, at the pinnacle of the evening, the pieces fortunately fell into place.

At the onset of the night, it seemed to spell out an all-out Aviator evening with Scorsese’s picture taking home the awards for “Art Direction,” “Costume Design,” “Film Editing,” and “Cinematography.” However, towards the closing of the ceremony, Million Dollar Baby stole the momentum—taking four of the “Big Six” including “Best Supporting Actor,” “Best Actress,” “Best Director,” and “Best Picture.”

My only disappointments throughout the evening were that Clive Owen did not emerge victorious over Morgan Freeman’s overrated performance and that not one single soul delivered a speech worth storing in the brain. Jamie Foxx’s was probably the most emotional, but lacked structure; Hilary Swank’s was very warm and appreciative, but truthfully, she just read off a list of names; all things considered, every one of this year’s acceptance speeches was a little too lackluster for my liking. Oddly enough, the one that brought the biggest smile to my face was Charlie Kauffman’s brief, creative, and short-on-thank-yous speech.

On the upside, and from a more fashion-oriented lens, the ladies looked great – especially, Hilary Swank, Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, and of course Julia Roberts. Also on a positive note, the Academy did not fall under the spell of selecting Scorsese and his picture out of pity. Scorsese now joins the ranks of Alfred Hitchcock as a director who was denied an Oscar for his first five nominations. The true champion and crowd favorite, Mr. Clint Eastwood, won the bout by a close decision, and with his gloves held high, made the night his own.

In general, the night was not as fulfilling as I imagined it to be beforehand. However, with the exception of a few of the “smaller” nominees not triumphing over the competition, everything either went as I wanted or as I anticipated. All together, I was 15 for 21 with my predictions. On a percentage scale, that may be an average grade, but on the whole, I scored two points higher than last year--even with adding eight additional predictions this year.

Fortunately for me, my predictions improved upon last year’s, and fortunately for the Academy – over the past two years – their selections seem to be hitting the nail on the head more and more. All they need now is to shorten the ceremony a tad further and to oust the use of Beyonce performing the majority of the songs.

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Look into My Crystal Ball...(Oscars 2005)

With contenders in all categories, who will win? Here are my picks.

Best Picture
The Aviator
Finding Neverland
**Million Dollar Baby

The best picture of the year you ask? Million Dollar Baby (period). Finding Neverland took me to a magical and emotional place, and easily deserves its name mentioned here. Sideways is by far one of the year’s best, and hands down my favorite comedy of the year. The Aviator is a valiant effort that the Academy may very well place at the head of the class. Ray is the only one on the list that arguably should have been replaced (maybe with Hotel Rwanda, Closer, or Eternal Sunshine). Nevertheless, to the fans of Ray, have no fear it will come in to play elsewhere.

At the end of the night, Million Dollar Baby should run away with the Oscar. It is not only the most moving boxing movie out there, but it is also the best film of 2004. On the other hand, with all of the hubbub and controversy conjured up by Medved, there is plenty of room for Sideways or The Aviator to pull a fast one on Baby and slip in a sucker-punch.

Probable Academy Pick: The Aviator

Best Director
**Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Taylor Hackford, Ray
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator

This one is a true cock fight between two American film icons: Eastwood and Scorsese. Scorsese, still with an empty shelf in the curio, has been long overdue to take home a golden guy, but the question is: if he brings home the bacon, will it be for The Aviator or for the miscalculation(s) the Academy has made in years prior? In my opinion, the latter rings the final bell with a resounding TKO; therefore, I will ignore the man who some have labeled as being a tad too pretentious, and look elsewhere.

Clint Eastwood has created his life’s opus in Million Dollar Baby. Remarkably, after last year’s highly recommended Mystic River, Eastwood has improved to a level of extraordinary with this emotionally gut-wrenching, powerful, and profound composition. Thus, my heart directs my vote to Eastwood.

Probable Academy Pick: Martin Scorsese

Best Actor
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
**Jamie Foxx, Ray

In a competitive year for male leads, all five of these actors have earned their place atop this list. Johnny Depp is one of the finest actors in the game. However, after two years of consecutive Best Actor nominations, he will still come up empty-handed. The same goes for DiCaprio.

It is a pleasure to see Don Cheadle included in the mix, but still: no. As for Eastwood, he is the only contender that just may pull off the upset. Instead, I say give him the Best Director and leave it at that. No one deserves the award more than the stand-up comic and star of Booty Call—Jamie Foxx. What a career turn this guy has made. The only question is: will the Academy see his portrayal of the great Ray Charles as a dead-on impression or as the best acting of the year? In my eyes, along with the general consensus, there is no question.

Probable Academy Pick: Jamie Foxx

Best Actress
Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
**Hillary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Despite hearing good things about Annette Bening’s work in Being Julia and Imelda Staunton’s dauntless role in Vera Drake, Hilary Swank’s athletic and trying portrayal in Million Dollar Baby deserves the most accolades. It is a thrill to see Moreno praised for her worthy depiction of Maria in another one of this year’s best films (Maria Full of Grace), but most likely, she doesn’t stand a chance up against the American favorites. I was however pleasantly surprised to see the Academy's interest in her performance. In addition to Moreno, it is a plus seeing Winslet on the list in her best role yet. However, in the end, Swank will surely grab the glory.

Probable Academy Pick: Hilary Swank

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

As predicted, Jamie Foxx was nominated for two awards. One he will win; one he will not—with this one obviously being the not. Thomas Haden Church’s character in Sideways was an absolute scene-stealer—the kind of acting one can only hope for in such a small picture and a far cry from his character in “Wings”. I wouldn’t be at all surprised or angered if he swiped the trophy. As for Morgan Freeman, the current favorite in most minds, his job in Million Dollar Baby is only noteworthy and not the astonishing portrayal that everyone is cracking it up to be. I hope his age and Hollywood success doesn’t play a factor here—that is the purpose of lifetime achievement awards.

Next to mention is the guy from M.A.S.H., Alan Alda. The last thing I saw him in was a science video I watched in the ninth grade. I cannot see this shocking entry playing any part in the outcome.

By the way, where is Freddie Highmore? If you don’t think that kid did an amazing job pouring his heart into his role—bringing the audience to tears, then you missed something. Without Highmore, that leaves us with the man who deserves the award the most—Clive Owen. Owen's acting in Closer is absolute top-shelf. His role was honest, bold, and packed with grit. No one warrants the Oscar more than Clive Owen; his support, alongside Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Natalie Portman, was the stand-out part of the show. Then again, because this category contains four strong players, it may be up for an upset.

Probable Academy Pick: Morgan Freeman

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda
**Natalie Portman, Closer

In the previous months, the only two names that have been mentioned with any consistency – relative to this group of ladies – are Cate Blanchett and Katherine Hepburn. Both names equate to Cate Blanchett picking up the gold. However, this is the one category that when the words “And the winner is...” are spoken, the favorite’s name may not follow. Both Virginia Madsen and Natalie Portman stand a possibility of stealing the statue from Cate. However, I have no choice but to go with Natalie, in the one of her two outstanding roles of 2004 that made her one of my personal favorite Misses of cinema.

Probable Academy Pick: Cate Blanchett

Well, that does it for this year's "big six." Here are some additional predictions in the "smaller" categories.

• John Logan for The Aviator
• Charlie Kaufman, et al. for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind**
• Terry Geroge & Keir Pearson for Hotel Rwanda
• Brad Bird for The Incredibles
• Mike Leigh for Vera Drake

• Richard Linklater, et al. for Before Sunset
• David Magee for Finding Neverland
• Paul Haggis for Million Dollar Baby**
• Jose Rivera for The Motorcycle Diaries
• Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor for Sideways

• Robert Richardson for The Aviator
• Zhao Xiaoding for House of Flying Daggers**
• Caleb Deschanel for The Passion of the Christ
• John Mathieson for The Phantom of the Opera
• Bruno Delbonnel for A Very Long Engagement

• The Aviator
• Collateral
• Finding Neverland**
• Million Dollar Baby
• Ray

• The Aviator**
• Finding Neverland
• Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
• The Phantom of the Opera
• A Very Long Engagement

• The Aviator**
• Finding Neverland
• Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
• Ray
• Troy

• Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
• The Passion of the Christ**
• The Sea Inside

• The Aviator
• The Incredibles
• The Polar Express
• Ray**
• Spider-Man 2

• The Incredibles
• The Polar Express
• Spider-Man 2**

• Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
• I, Robot
• Spider-Man 2**

• "Look to Your Path" from The Chorus
• "Al Otro Lado Del Rio" from The Sea Inside
• "Learn to Be Lonely" from The Phantom of the Opera**
• "Believe" from The Polar Express
• "Accidentally in Love" from Shrek 2

• Finding Neverland**
• Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
• Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
• The Passion of the Christ
• The Village

• The Chorus (France)
• Downfall (Germany)
• The Sea Inside (Spain)**
• As It Is In Heaven (Sweden)
• Yesterday (South Africa)

• The Incredibles**
• Shark Tale
• Shrek 2

• Born Into Brothels**
• The Story of the Weeping Camel
• Super Size Me
• Tupac: Resurrection
• Twist of Faith

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Monday, February 21, 2005

Movie Review: The Boondock Saints

United States, 1999
U.S. DVD Release Date: May 21, 2002
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: R (strong violence, language, and sexual content)
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly

Director: Troy Duffy
Producers: Elie Samaha, Chris Binker, Lloyd Segan, Robert Fried
Screenplay: Troy Duffy
Music: Jeff Dana
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox

Posted by Hello
The Boondock Saints, a picture that was blacklisted from theaters and pushed straight to DVD, has only been available on store shelves for a few years. However, through word of mouth, the film has both gained quite a following and established itself as a cult classic. By containing captivating characters in superb action sequences, with tricky timing and witty dialogue, first time writer/director Troy Duffy has created a near hidden gem of an independent film. Unfortunately, Duffy’s debut is a bit beset by a low budget and a bit borrowed from bigger blockbusters.

Two fraternal twin brothers, Conner (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) MacManus, may have grown up poverty-stricken (in the “boondocks”), but despite destitution, have remained steadfast in their faith. The Irish MacManus bros. are two tattooed, devout Catholics who carry their crosses with them everywhere they go. Both have firm relationships with God and follow His guidance down whatever path they feel He leads them.

After what seems like just another St. Patty’s Day bar fight, the drunken Irish boys find themselves in a life and death situation with three members of the Russian Mob, and are forced to kill in their own self defense. Then, after turning themselves in to the authorities for the crime and getting off the hook, they discover that the people of South Boston are emphatically behind them—calling them “saints” for getting rid of the low-life mafia scum of the streets. Now, after what seems like a request from God, these vigilante brothers unleash their wrath on all of the wise-guy mobsters and murderers in a series of quick and clean killings.

Meanwhile, the intelligent, seemingly-psychic, yet fruity, F.B.I. Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is in a frantic search to uncover the identities of the South Boston serial killers; he is unbeknownst to the fact that the “saints” he just released are the men responsible for doing the undertaking in all of his open-ended cases. Once he discovers that the murderers are the same two young men that he dismissed for doing the city good, what type of lawful and moral decisions will he make? Will he bring the twins to justice, let them continue, or join in their effort?

In this film that is almost entirely made up of males, a few actors stand out. Willem Dafoe as the opera-induced gay agent and Sean Patrick Flanery as the more dominating brother and bad-ass saint, each do an excellent job of developing their characters. In addition, Ron Jeremy plays his small role as Vicento Lapazzi with pizzazz, and his Elvis garb is an absolute hoot. But, with all big names aside, perhaps the most notable performance of the film comes from David Della Rocco as himself (Roc). This guy, who is actually writer/director Troy Duffy’s longtime best friend, takes his very first on-screen role and runs with it. Rocco as “The Funny Man”, package boy for the Italian Mafia, is the hysterical highlight character of the film. He provides an intense and gritty feel that really kicks the picture up a notch.

Following the 110 minute running time, a few quirky quotes and a few spectacular scenes will surely be burned into your mememory. Especially appreciated are the marinara sauce taste of home quote, the random Riverdance, and the attempt to cuddle from the Asian boy. The slow-motion poker game shoot-‘em-up sequence, the entire four man confessional scene, and the 7-eleven simile are also worth a mention. But, technically you could sum up the grandeur of this picture in two words: the cat. This is one of the most freakishly funny scenes ever, and undoubtedly an absolute riot to any dog lover.

While this movie has many positives, I do have a few complaints concerning the overall motion picture. First off, the audio problems: the dialogue is in a constant battle to be heard over the bland score/soundtrack. With the exception of a few songs (maybe two or three) the music doesn’t fit the film—probably because Duffy’s sub-par band wrote some of the material. Secondly, there are way too many fade-ins and fade-outs; it’s as if Duffy just got his first video camera and fell in love with the fade button. Thirdly, Duffy seems to be doing a lot of imitating scenes from other films. His tied-up and captured sequence in Yakavetta’s basement is reminiscent of Tarantino’s in Pulp Fiction; his unveiling of the Duke is similar to the introduction of John Mason in The Rock; and, his “provoked by God” premise is a Xerox of that of Frailty’s. While a small number of parts of the film may not be entirely original, the rookie to the industry (Duffy) puts a pleasing spin on what he has emulated, warranting a thumbs up.

While the film as a whole earns a thumb up on my scale, some might give a tremendous two thumbs down in terms of the warped perception of religion the film emits. This picture basically excuses the slaughtering of “bad” people in the instance that “God” motivated them to do so. This goes against all Christian teachings, and with the brothers being extremely religious this makes the plot a little less credible. The film itself quotes, “Angels don’t kill”; with that said, neither do saints, and this so-called “sanctified” version of capital punishment is what has some up in arms. In fact, Troy Duffy received a written letter from the Archdiocese of Toronto calling him “the spawn of Satan” for creating a film that makes the goals of God look violent, vengeful, and anti-pro-life. The bottom line is: you can’t kill in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (in Latin, English, or any language) and be declared a saint.

While some may be offended or sickened by the dominant theme of the film, others may simply see the picture as an awesome and entertaining piece of cinema. All in all, you can’t forget that this is a movie; regardless if you view the leads as heroes or villains, they are solid characters atop a solid screenplay. With a few more million in the budget, this film, which strikes a chord concerning the indifference of good men towards evil, could have made more of a mark on the industry. However, with the sequel (Boondocks 2: All Saints Day) in the works and the possibility of a director’s cut DVD release, I am sure that this worthy feature will gain even more fans and followers. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Friday, February 18, 2005

Happy Belated Birthday!

Aside from this past Monday (February 14th) being Valentine’s Day, it was also Brandon Valentine's 21st birthday. Yes, that’s right...this critic can now sit at a bar and order whatever his heart desires. In case you think that your eyes are playing tricks on you, they are not. You read it right; the last name and the date are one and the same. However, more importantly, Monday was also the birth date of this blog.

Happy belated birthday to B-Val’s Movie Reviews (now Valentine on Film)! This website has now served thousands of fans for one full year (or as all the parents of young ones say, 12 months).

As my baby develops over time, and as I experience its graduation from crawling to taking its first steps, I not only proudly look back on all of the progress that has been made, but also look forward to the following year—not as the terrible twos, but instead as the terrific twos.

Where are me and my reviews headed in ‘05? (Aghast, proper grammar: "my reviews and I")

Well, to answer your question, I have applied to the The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and this time around, I made sure that the application was in on time. I am sure the wait until September will prove to be long and arduous, as the anticipation builds to find out if my site and reviews are good enough to gain entry to The Society, but I do know that it will be very tough to garner that type of recognition.

Writers who wish to apply to the OFCS “must maintain an annual online publication quota of at least 50 professional-level reviews, no less than 400 words per review, in order to be eligible for consideration.” Members of the OFCS are awarded free entry into most movie theaters and are automatically qualified to have their words posted through

Hopefully, a bond will soon be built between the OFCS and me, but if not, have no fear...B-Val’s Movie Reviews (now Valentine on Film) will still be here—providing you with extensive film criticism for the bonafide movie buff.

Thanks for your attendance and well wishes.

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Movie Review: Sideways

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 10/20/04 (limited)
Running Time: 2:03
Rated: R (Profanity, sexual situations, nudity)
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh

Director: Alexander Payne
Producer: Michael London
Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett
Music: Rolfe Kent
Studio: Fox Searchlight

Posted by Hello
Writer/director Alexander Payne has penned and guided his greatest work to date. Backing away from the bleakness of his last effort (About Schmidt), Payne has moved on to greener pastures in creating this pensive and sophisticated comedy. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, Sideways is a kaleidoscope of multidimensional characters. With absolute top-shelf acting, we are convinced by the on-screen humanity in the four most real, earnest, and unaffected character portrayals of the year. Sideways is a harmonization of friendship, love, and wine that is peppered with enough pizzazz to make it the best comedy of the year.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a depressed wine connoisseur, who can’t find a publisher for his book, and who still laments his divorce that left him wallowing in loneliness. Meanwhile, Miles’ old roommate from college, Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), is living life to the fullest and is scheduled to marry his girlfriend in one week. But, before Jack ties the knot, Miles organizes a weeklong excursion for the two of them—a jaunt through California’s Wine Country to taste and talk about some of the finest wines the area has to offer. However, Jack has plans other than just sipping on fermented grapes during his final week as a bachelor: Jack wants to go wild and have a few flings before he commits to marriage.

Searching for a woman, Jack finds Stephanie (Sandra Oh) – working at a winery – who happens to be a friend of Maya (Virginia Madsen)—Miles’ past acquaintance and secret crush. Needless to say, the energetic Jack sets up a double date to bring the four of them together. Right from the get-go, Jack and Stephanie hit it off sexually, while Miles and Maya connect mentally in a beautiful conversation on wine. All the while, Miles is forced to keep Jack’s upcoming marriage from Stephanie. Throughout the week, Jack starts to rethink his wedding, while Miles’ and Maya’s relationship begins to bud—not only as two oenophiles, but also as a man and a woman who each long for love.

Even though the cast does not contain any headliners, the four leading roles could not have been any better. Paul Giamatti matches his excellent acting in last year’s American Splendor with his nominee-worthy performance here as the deeply despondent Miles. Virginia Madsen reestablishes her career with a charming performance, while Sandra Oh, the wife of the writer/director (at the time of filming), makes it clear that she is an actress with talent. And finally, kudos to Thomas Hayden Church for his role as the wired woman addict; the former star of “Wings” steals the show in every scene he inhabits.

Not only does Sideways offer an intelligent intriguing four-part character study, but it also offers some enticing intellect on the topic of wine. How wine is made, what makes it a delicate process, and why people perceive wine as artful and poetic, is all discussed. The vino vernacular that the film uses not only educates the viewers about wine, but it also allows them to become privy to the intricacies of Pinot.

Sideways possesses the perfect blend of drama and wry humor. It is a magnetic tale of two entirely different men - each on their own personal soul-searching getaway - that has the audience feeling laid-back at one moment and then crying with tears of laughter the next. Overall, Sideways is a palatable, oxygenating, and intoxicating motion-picture that – just like a fine wine – will certainly continue to gain appeal and value with age. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Movie Review: Say Amen, Somebody

United States, 1982
Running Time: 1:40
Rated: G
Cast: Willie Mae Ford Smith, Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Edward O’Neal, Edgar O’Neal, DeLois Barrett Campbell, Zella Jackson Price

Director: George T. Nierenberg
Producers: George T. Nierenberg and Karen Nierenberg
Studio: United Artists

Posted by Hello
Say Amen, Somebody is a stimulating and spirited documentary that focuses on the art of gospel music. Through a succession of spiritual revivals, performances, and interviews with some of the biggest names in the gospel game, Say Amen, Somebody provides enriching entertainment that will get your toes tapping and your hands clapping. However, Say Amen, Somebody is not only a production worth clapping for in rhythm, but also a picture worth applauding for in approval.

The film mainly centers on “Professor” Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of Gospel music, and Madame Willie Mae Ford Smith, a female “anointed singer” who revolutionized the genre. Via these two gospel geniuses and others (including “The O’Neal Twins”, “The Barrett Sisters”, and Thomas A. Dorsey’s longtime manager Sallie Martin), the audience becomes filled with the faith and hope of the African-American Christian community.

With such hits as The Barrett Sisters’ “The Storm is Passing Over” and The O’Neal Twins’ “Jesus Dropped the Charges”, the film shows its players as musical evangelists who are both spreading God’s “good news” and sending the Holy Spirit into the hearts of many. In addition to these two heartfelt charts, the performances of “Jesus Loves Me” and Dorsey’s own “Take my Hand, Precious Lord”, at the 1982 Gospel Singers’ Convention in St. Louis, provide for an inspiring and uplifting climax.

All in all, Say Amen, Somebody can best be described as spiritual soul food. It’s all about the communion of faithful and passionate people in song. It unleashes an essence of joy like no other documentary I’ve seen to date. It has the power to win over any comer—Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise. It sings of surrendering to the Lord, persevering over the Devil, and living on the Lord’s shoulder. And in all of its earnestness, Say Amen, Somebody even comes equipped with a few moments to chuckle—in particular, when Madame Smith comments on women speaking in Church and when Thomas and Sallie argue over where the first Gospel Singers’ Convention was held.

After all of the film’s “hallelujahs” are said and the credits roll, it is easy to recall a scene that takes place about three-quarters of the way into the film, where the family attempts to harmonize around the dinner table. Harmony is not only a virtue that this world can always use more of, but it is also a feeling that this film so infectiously spreads. By the end of this powerful production, you’ll be on your feet and ready to respond to the commanding title with a bold, triumphant, and apropos “Amen!” (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005