Monday, February 25, 2013

New Home Video Releases 2/26/2013

A few new releases this week.  Oscar Nominee The Master and the bizarre Holy Motors are the big new releases this week. 
And almost forgot getting released over the weekend is Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 2

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sunday Spotlight: Oscar Predictions

Well it’s one of my favorite days of the year Oscar day.  For some inexplicable reason I have always been obsessed with the Oscars. 
This year is the second year in a row where I was not able to see all the movies nominated for Best Picture but that is not going to stop me from making predictions. 

Best Picture
The second year in a row where 9 movies are nominated and this year I only managed to see 6.  But a clear front runner has emerged
Prediction- Argo – The start of Oscar season there was no clear front runner and seemed a toss-up between Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty.  But after the nominations were announced and Ben Affleck did not get a best Director nomination people felt the need to rally around Argo and has been cleaning up every award since then. 
Who Should Win- Lincoln or Django Unchained -Like I said I only have seen 6 movies in the category but as much as I liked Argo I would rather see Lincoln or Django Unchained win Best Picture. 

Best Director
With Argo the front runner for Best Picture and Affleck not nominated for Best Director it makes this category a little tougher to predict. 
Prediction – Steven Spielberg-Lincoln – Spielberg is the safe choice in this one for Academy voters.
Who Should Win – Steven Spielberg – I have seen 4 out of 5 movies in this category and while I really liked Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook I feel Spielberg did a great job of making a movie about politics a fascinating story and showed Lincoln as not only a great politician but a fully rounded person.

Best Actor
This is the one category that is a no doubter
Prediction – Daniel Day Lewis- Lincoln – He has been a front runner since it was announced he was going to star in the movie. 
Who Should Win – Daniel Day Lewis- Part of the reason Lincoln was such a great movie was Lewis’ ability to convincingly show all sides of Lincoln. Not only as a Politian, but a father, a husband, and a friend.

Best Actress
Not as easy to predict as Best Actor. Jennifer Lawrence has been getting plenty of awards leading up to the Oscars but Emmanuelle Riva has been slowly gaining a following.
Prediction – Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook I think the momentum that Riva has been getting is too little too late. 
Who Should win Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook Hard for me to say I have only seen two performances nominated but I did love Jennifer Lawrence and she is one of the reasons that movie worked so well.

Best Original Screenplay
This seems to be a category that is kind of up in the air.  First we got the rematch between Mark Boal and Quentin Tarantino who went head to head a few years ago with Mark Boal coming out ahead for The Hurt Locker. But also in the mix this year is the love that Amour seems to be getting lately and it could pull off the upset if Boal and Tarantino split the vote.
Prediction – Mark Boal – Zero Dark Thirty Zero Dark Thirty got a lot of praise early on in the Oscar season but it has really fallen off.  I think this is the one award it will win.
Who Should Win – Quentin Tarantino- Django Unchained.  Tarantino is one of the most original screenwriters around who not only comes up with interesting stories but has great dialogue. 

Best Adapted Screenplay
Another tough category.  Lincoln had been the front runner for so long but with the resurgence of Argo and it’s win at the Writers Guild it seems it has the momentum.  But you can’t count out Silver Linings Playbook which made a simple romantic comedy something special and the writer of Life of Pi who took what many considered an unfilmable book and made a great movie.
Prediction – Chris Terrio-Argo – again with the snub of Ben Affleck for director it seems like everyone else that worked on Argo is going to get rewarded.
Who Should Win Tony Kushner for Lincoln like I said lots of great stuff in this category but again I am going with Tony Kushner.  The movie is about a bunch of guys talking and he managed to keep it interesting.

Best Supporting Actor
Prediction – Robert De Niro- Silver Linings Playbook – I am going to predict a minor upset here.  I don’t think Alan Arkin will benefit from the Argo love but I think they are going to reward De Niro who has not won an Academy Award in over 30 years.
Who Should Win – Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained – One of the best things about Django Unchained was Waltz’s performances but I think this is the wrong category for him since he is more of a main actor then a supporting actor.  

Best Supporting Actress
This is the one category that historically has given us the biggest surprises. But the past few years it has been pretty predictable.
PredictionAnne Hathaway – Les Miserables – Like Daniel Day Lewis she has been winning every award so far and I don’t her losing here.
Who Should Win Amy Adams- The Master.  I have seen 4 out of the 5 movies and Les Miserables is the only one I haven’t see so I can’t say if Anne Hathaway should win. But out of the other 4 Amy Adams, Sally Field, and Helen Hunt are some of my favorite performances this year so it is hard for me to pick.  But I am going to say Amy Adams It is the one performances that truly surprised me.  She holds her with both Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and manages to shine. 

My picks for the rest of the categories

Best Animated Feature Film
Frankenweenie I haven’t seen any movie in this category but I think it comes down to Frankenweenie and Wreck-it Ralph and I am going with Tim Burton this year.

Life of Pi - No movie looked more beautiful than Life of Pi this year but voters could go for the more traditional cinematography of Skyfall

Costume Design 
Anna Karenina – Big costume drama always wins this award

Documentary Feature
Searching for Sugar Man – Searching for Sugar Man has been getting all the pre-Oscar Awards seems like a sure thing.

Documentary Short
Open Heart – When it comes to the shorts it is a pure guess.

Film Editing
Argo – Again the Argo train I think wins it.  Although it could as easily go to Zero Dark Thirty.

Foreign Language  Film
Amour – This is as much as a sure thing as you can get

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – The makeup had to be amazing because any flaws would have been obvious at the high frame rate.

Original Score
Lincoln – because I think John Williams will finally win again after 30 years.

Original Song
Skyfall – Because it is one of the best Bond songs in a long time and everyone loves Adele

Production Design
Life of Pi – I think Life of Pi will win in most of the technical awards

Animated Short
Paperman – Not betting against Pixar in this category.

Live Action Short
Henry – another pure guess

Sound Editing
Argo – Because everyone loves Argo

Sound Mixing
Les  Miserables – Apparently having people sing live makes this hard. 

Visual Effects
Life of Pi – again the movie looked amazing and was done with mostly special effects

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Movie Review: The ABC's of Death

When I first saw the trailer for The ABC's of Death I was like I need to see this movie.  It is a movie with a crazy premise.  They assigned 26 horror directors a letter of the alphabet and had each one make a short movie using the letter as inspiration for a death scene. What you end up with is one bizarre horror anthology.

Unlike some anthologies there is no real storyline that ties them all together it is just 26 different shorts.  They start at A and go to Z  and each short is completely different.  No matter what kind of horror movies you like there is something in here for you there is comedy, gore, animation, claymation, apocalyptic and everything in between.  While there is something for everyone it is fair to say that everyone will find some they don’t like as is the nature with most anthology films.    

What I liked about the movie is that you never knew what to expect.   Since they go in order you know what letter the short is but you don’t know what the ultimate death will be, so half the fun is trying to guess what it will be.   I will say the short that summed it up for me was W is for WTF.  That is pretty much what you are going to be saying throughout  the movie.  I don’t want to go too much into individual movies because the less you know the more enjoyable it is but I am going to try to highlight some of my favorite shorts without giving too much away. 

My favorite was D directed by Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl).  If you have seen the trailer then you can probably guess that D is for Dog.  What I loved about this short was it felt like it told a full story.  As someone who has seen plenty of shorts and tried to write one I know it can be hard to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time.  The short had some great visuals, it was intense and tells the whole story without dialogue. It also has one of the best endings in the series.  This will probably end up as one of my favorite shorts of the year. 

Another one of my favorites was the S movie.  It had some fantastical parts but then brought it back to reality at the end and left you really thinking.

Other ones that stand out for me are
Ti West’s M movie.  As with most of the shorts I wasn’t sure where this was going but he took it to a dark place and is possibly one of the more disturbing shorts.
Adam Wingard got the letter Q which is a tough one but he managed to make a pretty funny short. 
F  is by far my least favorite.            
and I watched T with my young son and I hope he isn’t scarred for life and one day I will get him potty trained. 

Overall: 4/5 Mixed bag for sure but the fun is the journey.  You will be scared, enraged, grossed out, disturbed, and you will laugh.  But most importantly you will be entertained.  I look forward to getting the Blu-Ray so I can see some of them again and skip the ones I didn’t like. 

New Home Movie Releases 2/19/13

This week we have lots of good movies getting released. Oscar nominees Argo and Anna Karenina and two older movies getting a special Blu-Ray 3D release with Top Gun and Monsters Inc. Plus a few other Oscar winners. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Spotlight: The MPAA Rating System

The MPAA rating system has been controversial pretty much since it started.  A few recent news stories have caught my eye that has brought the way the rating system works into the forefront of my mind.  The two stories are that the Evil Dead remake and Don Jon’s Addiction will both be edited to get an R rating.  Evil Dead Remake Slapped with NC-17 Rating

History of the MPAA

The ratings are issued by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The MPAA was started in 1922 by the major motion picture studios as a way of self regulation to avoid government censorship. The first head of the MPAA was former Postmaster General Will Hays. He developed what is called the Hay’s Code which had a specific list of things that could not be said or shown. The basic idea was that there could be no immoral behavior portrayed in a movie. If any movie violated something in the Hay’s Code the movie was banned from being released in the United States. Then in the late 60’s filmmakers started pushing the envelope with movies like The Pawnbroker and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff. This led new head of the MPAA Jack Valenti to try and come up with a different way of rating movies without making the filmmaker edit the movie to be released. So with the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) he developed the modern ratings system.

The new rating system was started on November 1, 1968. Originally the ratings for a movie were G, M, R, and X. M was changed to PG in 1972.  Then due to parents uproar over the violence in The Temple of Doom and Gremlins Steven Spielberg suggested to add another rating to bridge the gap between PG and R and the PG-13 rating was added. In 1990 the X rating was changed to NC-17 since the MPAA did not copyright the X rating became associated with porn. The NC-17 was supposed to be more tasteful.

To summarize a G is General Admittance, PG is Parental Guidance, PG-13 is Parental Guidance for those under 13. The difference between R and NC-17 is one that many people get confused. An R rating means that 17 and under need to be accompanied by and adult and a NC-17 rating means no one 17 and under can see the movie even if with a parent. 

In theory it seems to make sense. Give parents a guide so they can make informed decisions about what their kids watch. I am all for that. There are certain movies children should not be allowed to see and it is up to the parents to decide what is appropriate. But there are a number of problems with the system.

Problem 1: NC-17 Rating a form of Censorship?

First is the how NATO handles movies that are rated NC-17.  There is an unwritten rule that members of NATO (almost every national theatre chain) will not show any movie that is NC-17 or unrated by the MPAA.  So, while the NC-17 rating is supposed to be a guide to parents it is in effect a form of censorship blocking people from seeing it.  Two movies have recently tried to legitimize the NC-17 rating Shame in 2011 and Killer Joe in 2012 both got released with a NC-17 rating.  Both movies were small independent movies that probably were not going to make much money to begin with.  But it is still a significant move forward. 

When Shame was released Fox Searchlight president Steve Gilula said, "I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner".  At the time Shame had amassed lots of critical praise from the festival circuit and had lots of Oscar talk which would have raised it profile even more.  Even John Fithian the president of NATO thought Shame could change things.  He said Shame “is potentially an important step in the legitimate use of the NC-17 there just aren't very many movies released in the NC-17 rating anymore. We get maybe one or two a year. Filmmakers and movie studios are inappropriately afraid of the rating." Unfortunately it did not get any Oscar nominations and ended its theatrical run with a box office gross of $17.6 million.

Last year Killer Joe tried again to legitimize the NC-17 rating and had some high pedigree people involved.  Directed by Academy Award winner William Friedkin and staring Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe was rated NC-17 for “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality." Friedkin refused to edit the movie and it was released uncut.  The movie only played in 75 theatres and grossed only about $2 million.  Proving that despite what NATO says there is still a large reluctance to show these movies. 

Problem 2: System is Vague and Arbitrary

The other problem with the rating system is how vague and arbitrary it is.  Unlike the Hays Code there is no specific criterion for what each rating means. The biggest difference in NC-17 and R is usually sex. Very rarely does a movie get a NC-17 rating strictly for violence or language. According to some reports there are 4 times as many films receive NC-17 ratings for sex then for violence. Also there is a disparity in studio movies and independent movies.  Independent movies are more likely to get NC-17 rating for similar content as a studio movie. 

The difference between a PG-13 and R rating is just as fuzzy.  Recent movies like Bully and have highlighted the issue.  The documentary Bully examined the effects of bullying has on children in school.  Showing the realities of bullying the movie has some strong language and ended up getting an R rating.  Basically the kids featured in the movie swearing couldn't see the movie because of their swearing. The Weinstein Company pushed hard to get the movie lowered to a PG-13 rating because of the social importance of the movie.  I asked one of my teacher friends who took her middle school class to see the movie what her thoughts were. This is what she had to say.

The movie is absolutely valuable for middle school students to see. Yes there is some strong language, but most of it is stuff they hear/say daily anyways. I had no hesitation in taking a group of middle schoolers to see it and would take another group in a heart beat. What they gained from seeing the movie far outweighs the cons of the profanity. Also, I think that when the kids saw the language being used in that way, it made them think about how they use their words and how maybe they need to re-evaluate their own words towards others.

How are kids going to see the evils of bullying if they are not allowed to see the movie?  Eventually the movie was edited to get the PG-13 rating after the appeal process did not work.

Compare that to the PG-13 rating that The Hunger Games and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 got.  The Hunger Games is a movie about kids killing kids while Breaking Dawn has numerous decapitations and a sex scene.   Neither movie has cursing, nudity, or a whole lot of blood but the subject matter is more disturbing and adult.  Should the context of violence or cursing be considered when giving a rating?  The MPAA sometimes takes it into consideration but other times it seems to ignore it.  

Some people have suggested that there need to be additional ratings, something to distinguish the difference from a “hard” R and a “soft” R. I think people are confused with the ratings as it is. I think that the current ratings system is helpful to a point. It helps parents to see which movies might be age appropriate but I don’t think it really helps parents see what kind of content is in a movie. R ratings can be for any number of things and for some reason things that can be R in one movie will be NC-17 in another or PG-13 in a different one. The website I find very helpful and recommend to my friends is Kids in Mind . They rate movies based on 3 different categories violence, sexuality and language. So a movie that has 1-1-6 you know has very little violence, very little sex but some cursing. That website also goes into very detailed descriptions of why each movie is rated what it is (Almost too detailed for me as it can give away some spoilers).

This Film Not Yet Rated

This Film Not Yet Rated is a great movie that really shows a lot of the hypocrisy in the ratings system. The 2006 movie is sort a tale about censorship and a spy drama. Because the identities of the people on the board are kept private no one knows anything about the members. So to try and find out who are these people giving the ratings the director Kirby Dick hires a private investigator to find out who they are and to hold them accountable. The board is supposed to be made of parents of kids aged 5-17 but during his investigation he found out that is not true of all of them. Also he found out that during the appeals process there is always clergy present. It is not real clear why that is. The best quote form the movie is by Darren Aronofsky. “It seems backwards that to show human sexuality in pretty much any form is getting to R territory while you can shoot as many bodies as long as there is no blood and its PG-13…It should be flipped where if there is violence without blood its fantasy and should be for adults… but if you show violence with blood it should be PG-13 because you can see the consequences.” Since 2006 the MPAA has made some changes but the movie still highlights a lot of the problems it still faces.

Conclusions: Money vs. Artistic Vision

After all that lets look at what got me started on this rant.  The willingness of studios and directors edit their movies to get the R rating.  It occurred to me as much as the rating system is flawed the studios and directors are all to willing to go along with it and not challenge it.  

The hype for Evil Dead is pretty high and I think it has the potential to make money.  It could be a movie that puts NATO to the test and see if they are willing to show it.  But studios are afraid.  It is all about the money for them and not about the artistic vision.  It is the reason why so many horror movies now are being released as PG-13 to make more money.  There is nothing inherently wrong with making a PG-13 movie knowing it will make more money but to purposefully edit a move after it gets a rating to get a different rating seems wrong.    

It’s one thing for studios to push for lower ratings to make more money that’s what they do. But for a director to change it before it is even rated is more bothersome. Which is why the news about Don Jon’s Addiction is even more troubling.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is getting great reviews out of the festival circuit for his directorial debut.  Can it make money in theatres? It’s not very likely given its theme. So why is Levitt so willing to edit?  That’s the question that bothers me.  You hope directors put on screen their vision of a movie.  That’s one of the advantages of being an independent filmmaker no studio interference with your vision.  If the movie in its current form is his vision I hope he pushes to get it released that way.  Similar to what Steve McQueen did for Shame and William Friedkin did for Killer Joe.   I want to see a movie as the director originally intended me to see it. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially parents. What do you look for in ratings? Are there any other sites you use?  As a new parent this is something that will be of even more importance to me in the near future.  Is there any good solution to this problem or to paraphrase Argo “it’s the best bad idea we have”. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Box Office Wrap-Up 2/112013

Box Office Wrap-Up

Identity Thief opened big this weekend exceeding most peoples expectation with $36.5 million easily taking the number one spot.

Dropping to number 2 is the Rom-Zom-Com (or is it Zom-Rom-Com) Warm Bodies with $11.5 million. 

The other big new release this weekend Side Effects landed in 3rd with only $10 million.  A lot different than the last time Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh teamed up with Magic Mike that opened with $39 million. 

Still hanging out in the top 5 is Silver Linings Playbook. In its 13th week it made $6.9 million for the fourth spot.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters rounds out the top 5 with $5.75 million.

Jessica Chastain stars in movies that are in the 6th and 7th spot. With Mama making $4.3 million and Zero Dark Thirty making $4 million.

Argo managed to jump back into the top 10 riding the wave of award season wins and additional theatres it made $2.5 million for the 8th spot. 

The 4th best pic nominee to be in the top 10 this weekend was Django Unchained which made $2.2 and has become Quientin Tarantino’s highest grossing movie.

Still managing to stay in the top 10 was the Sylvester Stallone action movie Bullet to the Head with $1.98 million. 

And just missing the top 10 was the 3D release of Top Gun which made $1.9 million from 300 IMAX screens. 

New Home Video Releases 2/5/13

Lots of new movies coming out.  The Oscar nominated Flight and Disney's newest release from the vault Peter Pan are the two big ones this week.