Thursday, August 29, 2013

What will the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals mean for this Years Oscar Hopefuls?

At this point numerous films are being shown, some for the first time, some as repeats from Cannes at both the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals.  How do both of these festivals shape the Oscar crystal ball?  One thing is for sure, both festivals now provide a huge boost for strong contenders to gain even more momentum.

Venice Film Festival

Here is a graph from Wikipedia on the winners from the 2000s:
2000The Circle (Dayereh)Jafar Panahi* Iran
2001Monsoon WeddingMira Nair India/ United States/ Italy/ France/* Germany
2002The Magdalene SistersPeter Mullan Ireland
2003The Return (Vozvrashcheniye)Andrey Zvyagintsev* Russia
2004Vera DrakeMike Leigh United Kingdom
2005Brokeback MountainAng Lee United States
2006Still Life (Sanxia haoren)Jia Zhangke China
2007Lust, Caution (Se, jie)Ang Lee United States/ China/ Taiwan
2008The WrestlerDarren Aronofsky United States
2009LebanonSamuel Maoz* Israel
2010SomewhereSofia Coppola United States
2011FaustAlexander Sokurov Russia
2012PietàKim Ki-duk* South Korea
What this graph tells Oscarologists, and film lovers all over is that winning the Golden Lion (Best Picture) may mean nothing.  Only one film in the last 12 years went on to be nominated for Best Picture, it did not win, and that was Brokeback Mountain in 2005.  Vera Drake scored 3 big nominations, Director, Actress, and Screenplay in 2004, and in 2008 The Wrestler scored two nominations for Actor, and Supporting Actress.  The rest of the films made no impact.

Venice has always been a bit of a wild card, with films in and out of competition, The Master received a significant Oscar bump, but nothing else made the mark.  In 2011 films like Shame, Ides of March, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy all started their trek to Oscar at Venice, but most of them were regulated to smaller categories.

One thing about Venice, and its impact this year is that you can be sure the reviews for Gravity will help spark even more interest, and that the film is on a rocket to mass critical support, the film is also going to be screening at Telluride.

Telluride Film Festival

The beauty about this film festival, is that the line-up is announced mere days before the actual festival, which builds the anticipation.  After seeing this year's line-up I am certain that many of the films will be in contention for numerous Oscar categories, but how has this festival impacted Oscar? One word, Argo.

Last year's Best Picture winner received thunderous applause at Telluride, and it was then that many Oscar pundits predicted it would not only be a contender for Best Picture, but also the front runner to win the big prize, and they were right.  These festivals are becoming more and more important with regard to setting that strong original buzz, and making films stand out.  Amour was the other major film which continued the festival march here after Cannes.

This year's line-up has a lot of buzz attached, with Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis (both Cannes films), then there is All is Lost, Labor Day, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Past, The Invisible Woman, and once again Gravity.

This line-up is stacked with prestige from great directors, and will launch numerous, acting, screenplay, and technical nominations, but which of these films listed above will make Picture, and Director?  I am excited to hear the buzz, but together these festivals prove that you have to start fast to get your name out there otherwise you may never hit the ground running.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blue Jasmine Proves the Power of Woody Allen still Exists, and this Darker Film (with some laughs) is One of his Best Films in Years

Blue Jasmine (4 1/2 out 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, and Alec Baldwin

Going to see a good Woody Allen film, is a cathartic experience.  Allen is one of longest, hardest working directors; he has been directing/writing for film since 1966, and prior to that he wrote for television in the 1950s and 60s.  Allen is one of those lasting directors from that time period who true to form creates a genuinely magical cinematic experience, and through his blend of the dramatic, and humorous he transports you into the minds of the neurotic. 

Jasmine is one Allen's darker films although I laughed loudest in the theatre.  The film centers around Jasmine (Blanchett), or Janette; she seems to have intentionally changed her name, from the one given to her by her adopted family.  Jasmine was whisked away by her husband Hal (Baldwin) in her junior year of college; she lives the life a socialite throwing parties for the elite, wrapped in only designer labels. Jasmine is used to the finer things in life, and has avoided her past to protect her status.

The film jumps between her time with her husband Hal, and the aftermath of Hal's Bernie Madoff ponzi schemes.  The film jumps back and forth between Jasmine's plush life in Manhattan (I love her line about being forced to live in Brooklyn) and living with her step sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco in an apartment she loathes from first glance.  Ginger is searching for her own happiness, through different relationships, although the sisters had two different paths.

Allen's script is one of his best in years, although I was a huge fan of Midnight in Paris, this is stronger. Allen uses the template of Streetcar Named Desire to define Jasmine as a Blanche type who definitely depends on the kindness of strangers; she goes a little crazy without a set path, you feel as though this woman has lost, or maybe never had a grasp on reality, as she is constantly trying to avoid the past from her days of being adopted to her failed marriage.

Allen has set up Ginger and both the men in her life as "Stanleys" the working class schlub, with whom she must settle.  Both Augie (Dice Clay) and Chili (Cannavale) are these bravado macho men whose softer, less financially solvent sides are laughable to Jasmine.  Meanwhile Ginger finds love with both of these men because of their genuine nature, although there is an uncertainty if she is ever truly happy with either, especially since even after she divorces Augie and is dating Chili she goes after Al (Louis C.K.).

Together this ensemble is brilliantly woven together, and play off each other so nicely, but the stand out is clearly Blanchett, she is electric in this role, and goes off and on the rails with ease.  Watching Blanchett act is a true art forml she makes you laugh, cry, hate, scream, and feel every emotion all with one performance.  There is this vulnerability to her as she goes "a little mad" but this madness is brought together layered to be something more twisted within her, and the performance speaks volumes to making this film even more successful.

Hawkins and Dice Clay are the other stand outs.  Hawkins Ginger is weak, timid, vulnerable, but like her step sister there is something about her which allows you to see every facet to her personality.  The film never states the cause for her divorce, but you can pieces of Jasmine in her as she too is trying to continue to find a man who will give her more, and be more for her.  Who knew Andrew Dice Clay could provide such depth; he has only a few scenes in the film, but I blown away by his performance, and stark contrast he portrays to the rest of the characters, he is the most real, and you feel as though he tried to be the best man he could for his family, but got caught up in each sister's web.

In Allen's last successful film, Midnight in Paris the theme was clinging to the past, in this film its clearly about avoiding and forgetting the past at all costs.  Jasmine attempts to move past Hal with Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) through lies, which she truly believes to be true as she tells him about herself. There are also moments when Jasmine forgets key details about her relationship with Hal; she talks about him so lovingly, but their marriage was flawed.  Jasmine has lost her grip on reality because her comfort and the life she believed she had was taken from her.  There is something beautiful in the writing about walking away from the past, or her case having a spotty memory of her past because of her psychosis, which makes this film impactful.

Performer to Watch: David Oyelowo

When you watch Lee Daniels' The Butler the two performances/actors who draw you in first are both Forrest Whitaker, and Oprah Winfrey.  There is a sheer magnetism to both of their performances, but one of the other stand outs is the lesser known David Oyelowo who plays the older version of their oldest son Louis Gaines.  In the The Butler Oyelowo's Louis takes the complete opposite path his father has taken; he is activist who throughout the years stands with Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, and for Nelson Mandella (in the States).

Oyelowo's performance in The Butler is memorable; he provides a framework with which you get to see two different generations vantage point of the continuing Civil Rights movement, and he is a fantastic actor. While Oyelowo was not in Lee Daniels' first film Precious; he was in The Paperboy, and while the film itself was more of a clunker his performance is one which stands out.  Oyelowo is a star on the the rise, who will be making an even bigger splash in the next couple years.

As stated above Oyelowo is not new to television/film; he has appeared in the British television series MI-5, the British mini-series Five Days, the CBS show The Good Wife, and the HBO series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  Oyelowo has done more work in film, and made a bigger impact in numerous supporting roles.  After seeing him in The Butler, I remembered him most from The Paperboy, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  In Apes he played the man who ran the lab and pushed James Franco's character to go forward with Alzheimer's drug.  Oyelowo has also had roles in Lincoln, Jack Reacher, and Red Tails.

While Oyelowo has been great in a lot of different roles, it's his terrific performance in Lee Daniels' The Butler, which has me the most excited. In the next few years Oyelowo has a lot of exciting projects including, a bio-pic about Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana entitled Nina set for a 2013 release.  I think I am most excited for Oyelowo to be a part of the Christopher Nolan world; he is listed as one of the stars in Nolan's next film Interstellar, which is set to be released in 2014.  Oyelowo has a bright future ahead of him, and I am excited to see what comes next.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer 2013 Movie Wrap-Up

Another year, another summer full of hits, misses, and head scratchers at the cinema.  With Labor Day Weekend looming, and only the One Direction concert film, and a terrible Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez film in our way, I think it's safe to say that the summer movie season has ended.  There is one lesson that can be learned, studio executives do not think before they green light, and under estimate audiences time and time again, with banal choices that seem like failure while in pre-production.  There are a few things I observed, everyone loves Robert Downey Jr., women rule, and never under estimate the niche audience market.


There is power in a successful brand, and a star.  Iron Man 3, did better than the second film, and was actually better than the film too (minus the whole Mandarin debacle).  At the moment the film is the highest grossing for the year, with 408 million domestic, and 804 in the foreign markets, that's great and proof that there is a new "man of steel" dominating the box office.

DiCaprio is also bank!  Beyond his "Oscar" films like Revolutionary Road and J. Edgar, his last 5 films have all made over 100 million dollars (domestically).  The Great Gatsby was touch and go before its release, but with smart marketing, a great soundtrack, and iconic literature as its source the film drew in people of all ages taking in 144 domestically, and 188 in foreign markets, not too shabby.

Star Trek: Into Darkness proved to not do as well as the original, but still made decent money, it could potentially be one of the more pirated movies of the year.  I think the problem with this franchise is that it's still viewed as "too geeky" and not as cool.  This theory goes with the branding concept.

The Fast and Furious brand has now seen its sixth film, and been just as successful, but I agree with American Dad, the whole series is a bit homoerotic, I am actually shocked I only watched the first one.  Look for a seventh because this franchise is unstoppable.

The surprise hit of the month, was Now You See Me, which like that engine kept chugging along week after week to make 116 million domestic and 176 in the foreign markets.  The power of word of mouth, helped this film a lot.

On to the big bombs, The Hangover III, and After Earth.  There is no rule that your film has to have a sequel if its succeeds, or that it needs to even be a trilogy.  I get the first and second Hangover films made good money, but people hated the sequel, which proved a third should not be made, listen to audiences!  Todd Phillps should take a page from Edgar Wright, and Simon Pegg.  After Earth was the first box office bomb from Will Smith since Wild Wild West, the film had poor marketing, and was just plain bad.  Sorry M. Night Shyamalan you are a one hit wonder in film. 

Of the smaller films Frances Ha (4 million), and Before Midnight (8 million) did not really catch on, but both were great films, and well reviewed.  In fact Midnight is my best reviewed film of the year, so far.


The big winners for June were Man of Steel, Monsters University, World War Z, The Heat, This is the End (because of the budget), and The Purge(because of the budget).

Superman tried to return 7 years ago, and while critics gave the film a solid pass, the action packed Man of Steel did a little bit better, so it gets a sequel.  If you look at inflation the two films basically made the same domestically, but the foreign market has saved this film to live on for another day.

Pixar did it again, but they are not the best in the animated realm this year.  Monster University scored big after the 3-D re-release of the original flopped.  Was there any doubt this would do well?

World War Z was another slow and steady film, which did a lot better than expected, the book is one of the most popular within the last many years, but the film took a different approach which concerned many.  These concerns did not stop people from attending the film proving that adults still go to films, although yes it was about zombies once again.

The Heat proves the power of both women and Melissa McCarthy at the box office.  McCarthy had two films make over a hundred million in a year, this is rare in recent years, except for maybe someone like Jennifer Lawrence.  The female buddy cop was a sure fire hit with lead Bullock and McCarthy, but people keep under estimating the power of women at the box office, and they should not, in fact keep the strong female lead films coming.

While This is the End and The Purge did not crack 100 million domestically they were made on such small budgets that they were both seen as a huge success.  Props to both films succeeding.  

There were obviously a lot of films, which made money in June, but there were two films, which landed poorly, White House Down and The Internship.

Were people tired of seeing the White House attacked this year?  Olympus has Fallen did better with 98 million, while White House Down made 72 million (both domestic), maybe people picked one movie about attacking the White House this year, and went, "Eh one's enough."  Combined the two films did well, but this is not fourth grade math.

Sometimes getting the old gang back together just does not work, that's mainly when the film looks bad. That was the fate The Internship suffered.  Owen Wilson, and Vince Vaughn have made a good film in many years, and audiences were smart to avoid this clunker.

Once again smaller dramatic films tended to be here and gone quickly, like Much Ado About Nothing (4 million domestic) and The Bling Ring (5 million domestic).  

While May and June saw fireworks, July was only saw one film do incredible, and that was Despicable Me 2.    Despicable made 100 million dollars more than the original, and is the second highest grossing film of the year so far, the strong word of mouth from children and adults made this one a hit.

The next film, which I would deem as a huge success was another scary movie, but a good one at that, was The Conjuring.  With another small budget The Conjuring made 131 million dollars domestic, which is pretty impressive.

The Conjuring beat the X-Men franchise, The Wolverine, but that film suffered from a terrible first film, so my assumption is that middling reviews made non fans weary to waste money, although the film made 125 million domestic.

Pacific Rim is the perfect example of flop in the States, good foreign box office.  Studios are making more and more films like this with more action and little dialogue so they can do great business all over the world. While I loved Pacific Rim, this strategy has taken away one of the strongest elements of a film, the script.  Rim also had the most talk after Comic Con last year, but that excitement faded quickly.  I am intrigued to see how this trend plays out over the next few years.

The rest of the big budget films in July were mostly let downs, Red 2, Turbo, R.I.P.D., and of course The Lone Ranger.  Ranger's story is the most interesting because it made many headlines, namely from Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer blaming the critics for the film's failure, but also getting served by journalists and bloggers for not having a clue what they were talking about.  Sorry your film just sucked, and no one wanted to you in red face Johnny Depp.

On the smaller films side, The Way Way Back (18 million), and Fruitvale Station (15 million) have done the best, and both will most likely pass 20 million.  Fruitvale is a surefire Oscar contender, and could make even more money once this happens.


I am honestly not going to waste much breadth on the failures of August, but rather list them: Elysium, The Smurfs 2, Percy Jackson 2, Kick-Ass 2, Mortal Instruments, You're Next, and the biggest flop of the month Paranoia.  I will add that We're the Millers is going to be a mild success, but the real success story of August is Lee Daniel's The Butler.

While listening to the Oscar Podcast from Sasha Stone at, she pointed out that The Butler may be the first non Tyler Perry film to be number one at the box office for two weeks in a row, and directed by a black director, who also identities as gay, Lee Daniels. The Butler is only in its second weekend, but has made 51 million dollars, with no significant film being released over Labor Day I have a feeling this could repeat for a third week in a row, which would be amazing.  The film is a sure fire Oscar contender, and while it's not the best movie, it is a great story, and incredibly emotional.  The Butler is the only film released this month which is having an impact at the box office, and it a well made film, kudos to the Weinstein Company and Lee Daniels for ending August well.

Fall 2013 TV Preview: Most Anticipated New Shows

Who is excited for the new fall television series? Me, there are a lot of good ones on the horizon this year, and of course, a few shows, which make you ask "How did you get a green light?" Of the major 4 (5 if you want to count the CW), there a mixed bag on every network.  Here are the 6 new shows that I am looking forward to the most!

1-Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

No description needed!  This is the most anticipated drama/series in general of this season.  ABC did not send out screeners of this, but smartly waited until this year's San Diego Comic Con to show more material, and after hearing people's reactions, I am pumped.  Marvel and Whedon are brilliant with how they have handled the overall creation of this world in a live action way, and I am excited to see the return of Clark Gregg as Coulsen. 

2-The Crazy Ones (CBS)

Log line: An unorthodox father-daughter team oversees a struggling ad agency.

Cast: Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Wolk, Amanda Setton, Hamish Linklater.
The previews for this show look hilarious, and teaming Robin Williams with Sarah Michelle Gellar is a genius idea.  It doesn't hurt that the rest of the ensemble James Wolk, Hamish Linklater, Amanda Setton are all great.  The riff off with Kelly Clarkson making the McDonald's song dirty is enough to get me to watch.

3-The Blacklist (NBC)

Log line: One of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives mysteriously turns himself in and offers to help the bureau find a sought-after terrorist, but only if he can work solely with a rookie FBI profiler fresh out of Quantico.

Cast: James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Harry Lennix, Ryan Eggold.
While Spader was a ham on Boston Legal, he was still great, and I have only heard incredible things about this drama.  NBC has done a great job trying to break the bubble, and compete with non major network series, Hannibal is a great example.  This looks like it will be there next opportunity to create another great drama series.
4-Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)

Log line: A no-nonsense new captain at a Brooklyn police precinct forces an immature but brilliant detective to grow up.

Cast: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Chelsea Peretti, Joe Lo Truglio.
Andy Samberg was only funny on SNL with his digital shorts (to me), but this show looks like he and the ensemble are going to knock it out of the park.  It's out there like Barney Miller, but with a more modern sensibility.  I am excited to see Braugher and Crews turn up the laughs for once.
5-The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)

Log line: A TV reporter, after years of being the poster boy for Parkinson’s disease and a stay-at-home dad driving his family bonkers, finally returns to work.

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Betsy Brandt, Wendell Pierce, Katie Finneran, Conor Romero, Juliette Goglia, Jack Gore.
I did not see a preview for this show until about a few weeks ago, but boy is Michael J. Fox, one of the most impressive television actors of all time; he is probably going to go down, as having one of the most under rated legacies, from Family Ties, to Spin City, all his guest work recently, and potentially this show; he and the show look hilarious.
6-Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC)
I am excited to see where this spin-off goes, but place it at 6 because I do not want the Once folks to go too far and stretch the lore without thinking, the way things played out with Lost.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mud is a Powerful Journey of the Human Spirit, and its Connection with Love. Watch out for Jeff Nichols, Tye Sheridan, and the Best Matthew McConaughey Performance

Mud (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories,Take Shelter)
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, and Matthew McConaughey 

Have you seen a film from Jeff Nichols yet?  The answer to that question is most likely, no, but his three films (including Mud) should be on your must watch list.  I first discovered Nichols with his 2011 film Take Shelter.  Nichols has a unique Americana style to his directing, which highlight both the beauty in nature and the complexity in life.  

While the film is entitled Mud, it centers a young boy named Ellis (Sheridan) who is dealing with the disintegration of his family, and his own journey into adulthood.  The beginning of the film shows Ellis' parents arguing in the background.  Soon after this moment Ellis escapes to be with his friend Neckbone (Lofland) and the two escape on a boat where they encounter a mysterious man named, Mud (McConaughey).

Ellis, and subsequently Neckbone are drawn into Mud's world, as Mud explains to them his idyllic, and romantic quest for the love of his life, Juniper (Witherspoon).  Ellis admires this quest; he is watching his parent's marriage dissolve, but also gets to help save a relationship by journeying day in and day out to help Mud complete his work on a boat to whisk Juniper away.

Ellis's exploration and journey is of course based more in the mindset of his childhood ideals, rather than the complexity of the adult world.  Nichol's script does a great job using Ellis, and his view point to help bring you back to the days when things had that simple answer.  Ellis poses the simple question "Do you love her?"  Mud's answer is a simple yes, but there is more to this, and more to the story of these two people.  The concept of love is the main theme throughout the film, the way it courses like the beautiful Mississippi within this Arkansas world.  Love does not mean you can walk up and punch someone in the face every time, or shoot someone, because it's not that simple, and script does a fantastic job of creating a parallel between Ellis and Mud.

As you watch Sherdian, who was also fantastic in The Tree of Life, you get caught in the wistful naivete of youthful exploration.  Ellis encounters his exploration through many characters from his father (Ray McKinnon), his mother (Sarah Paulson), Neckbone's uncle (Michael Shannon), his own "first love" Mae Pearl, and Juniper (Witherspoon) Yet the person with whom Ellis yearns to hear from most is Mud.  Ellis drags Nickbone along for an adventure with Mud, because he feels as though they are on this chivalrous quest, battling the dragon, and fighting to keep love alive.  Sheridan has an excellent range, and pulls of  the growth we see in his character as he learns things can't be tied up in a neat bow, and there is more to love than just "Do you love her?"

McConaughey's Mud appears to not have learned the same lesson, his romantic nature and idyllic view of Juniper is something he does not even understand until it gets to that final breaking point.  In a sense he has has already passed the final point.  This is the best role of McConaughey's career (so far) and while he was great in Magic Mike, this is one of the rare times where he has stepped outside of playing himself, and his heartfelt Huck Finn like journey with these young boys packs an emotional punch.

Nichols is a master of of the detail, his direction is some of the best and most heartfelt I have seen in the 2000s; he truly believes in the power of not only the great cast, but the visual.  Nichols has worked with cinematographer Adam Stone on all his films. Stones's shots are some of the most beautiful, you feel as though you engulfed in the mighty Mississippi, and that every piece of nature from the wood in campfire to the sweat on their foreheads highlights the power of nature, and the human endurance.  Stone knows how to frame scenes in a way that feel personal, like the opening where Ellis is in the foreground, and his parents are fighting behind him.  Together Nichols and Stone have put together some of the most incredible images on film.

Nichols, does a fantastic job of weaving a story about childhood innocence along with telling the story of what happens when innocence has been lost, and the adult world takes over.  Even with a slower pacing the end builds to a fevered rush; he knows how to make your heart beat fast, and melt with that parting shot.  While the ending is ever slightly too predictable/happy, the film lets you feel as though the closure needed exists, and Ellis has grown through his experiences, and exploration of understanding the complexity of love.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Who Will Win at the VMAs?

Video of the Year
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz, "Thrift Shop"
Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven"
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell, "Blurred Lines"
Taylor Swift, "I Knew You Were Trouble"
Justin Timberlake-Mirrors

This is a tough call, Mirrors should win, Swift has the fan vote, and Blurred Lines is a much talked about video of the moment, although the questionable rape undertones could hurt.  So who wins?  I think this is between Swift, and Timberlake, neither have won Video of the Year.  A woman has won the last five years, and sometimes the VMAs spread the wealth.  

Will and Should Win: Justin Timberlake
Spoiler: Taylor Swift

Best Male Video 
Justin Timberlake, "Mirrors"
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell, "Blurred Lines"
Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven"
Ed Sheeran, "Lego House"
Kendrick Lamar, "Swimming Pools"
This could be where they spread the wealth, while women tend to dominate the Video of the Year, they did not this year.  This is between Bruno, JT, and Robin Thicke.  I think this one will go to Robin Thicke, namely because it just feels like its his to win.

Will Win: Robin Thicke featuring Pharell
Spoilers Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake

Best Female Video 
Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko, "Stay"
Taylor Swift, "I Knew You Were Trouble"
Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"
Pink feat. Nate Ruess, "Just Give Me A Reason"
Demi Lovato, "Heart Attack"

I would actually pick Rihanna, but Swift has this unless Miley can pull off the upset.  Then again Rihanna has won Video of the Year, but she has never won this category before, so could she upset?  I think Swift fans will prevent this from happening.

Will Win: Taylor Swift
Spoilers: Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus

Best Pop Video 
Bruno Mars, "Locked Out of Heaven"
Justin Timberlake, "Mirrors"
Fun., "Carry On"
Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"
Selena Gomez, "Come and Get It"
Look out for that Miley Cyrus as a spoiler, this is one of the most popular songs of the summer, and this is the only place where it seems more likely she would win.  This is also where "bubblegum" artists are typically awarded.

Will Win: Miley Cyrus
Spoilers Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake

Best Collaboration
 Justin Timberlake, feat. Jay-Z, "Suit & Tie"

Pitbull feat. Christina Aguilera, "Feel This Moment"
Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding, "I Need Your Love"
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell, "Blurred Lines"
Pink feat. Nate Ruess, "Just Give Me A Reason"

Another showdown between Robin Thicke and Justin, but this time Jay-Z is in the mix, I feel like Robin Thicke will take this award as well, namely its a Video of the Year nominee.

Will Win: Robin Thicke featuring Pharell
Spoiler: Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z

Best Rock Video 
Imagine Dragons, "Radioactive"
Fall Out Boy, "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)"
Mumford & Sons, "I Will Wait"
Thirty Seconds To Mars, "Up in the Air"
Vampire Weekend, "Diane Young"

Radioactive is the hot song of the moment, but Mumford is way more popular, I think they have this one.  30 Seconds to Mars also has a big cult following and could spoil.

Will Win: Mumford and Sons
Spoilers: 30 Second to Mars

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Justin Timberlake will be Awarded the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) at the VMAs Sunday

Beyond Stephen Colbert was anyone who is not obsessed with award shows talking about the VMAs happening this Sunday? I did not hear much chatter, but then again I am moving out of target demo for this network.  Then, the announcement, N'Sync would be getting back together to perform on the show.  Then Lance Bass denied, but not technically, that the group would be performing.  Suddenly the  kudos fest is all anyone can talk about, well played MTV.  Leave it to Justin Timberlake and his former band members to help bring excitement to music again.

Not only are these men supposedly reuniting, but Justin Timberlake is receiving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award for this award show.  Past winners have included:

1984-David Bowie, The Beatles
1987-Peter Gabriel
1988-Michael Jackson
1989-George Michael
1990-Janet Jackson
1991-Bon Jovi (the year the award was renamed from Video Vanguard to its current name)
1992-Guns N' Roses
1993-Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones
1998-LL Cool J
2000 Red Hot Chili Peppers
2003-Duran Duran
2011-Britney Spears

This award was not given out every year, but the artists who have won this lifetime achievement have had an impact on music videos in a tremendous way.  The way award is named after the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson whose Thriller video changed the face of music videos,  and has created a benchmark for greatness.

Over the years as part of N'Sync, or solo Timberlake has created some incredibly memorable music videos.  As a part of N'Sync there were numerous like the dancing puppetry in "Bye Bye Bye" the wonderfully edited "Pop" and even the hilariously cheesy "I Drive Myself Crazy" where they are all in straight jackets.  As a solo artist Just has appeared to move beyond the bubble gum pop, and with videos like for "Cry Me a River" "Sexyback" and this years "Mirror" Timberlake enters the pantheon of great music video artists.  I will now watch Sunday to see this man honored, and hopefully see a fun reunion with his former group mates.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

VMAs Most Memorable Moments

The Video Music Awards do still exist, and that is surprising because MTV doesn't play music videos anymore, a critique you will hear from many.  With that said, artists still make videos, and this kudos fest still occurs.  Over the years this show has provided with some draw dropping, water cooler moments at work.  With spoilers abound this year's big spoiler has been just well, spoiled, N'Sync is going to appear together.   Many of these moments are centered on icons like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears, and while some started careers, others were at the downturns. Here are some of the most memorable moments throughout the years at the VMAs.

1984-Madonna rolling around the stage "Like a Virgin?"

1994-Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie-The MOST awkward kiss ever

1999-Diana Ross feels up Lil' Kim 

2003-Madonna Returns even less Virginal kissing Britney and Christina

2007-Britney Spears 2007 Post Meltdown (trying to recover)

2009-Kanye Rushing the Stage on Taylor Swift

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler Successfully Pulls at the Heart Strings, but also Hits some Bumps in trying to be too Ambitious

Lee Daniels' The Butler (3 1/2 out of 5)
Directed by: Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy)
Written by: Danny Strong (Game Change, Recount)
Starring: Forrest Whitaker, and Oprah Winfrey

About 18 years ago Robert Zemeckis directed the film Forrest Gump, the film had an impact on grand storytelling, and one man's place in connection with history.  How do you tie one person to 50 or more years of history, and not clutter the film with happenstance.  Gump used things as obvious as Vietnam, and the not so obvious, with ping pong.  Lee Daniels' The Butler (yes this is the official title) uses a similar method of storytelling, in describing events, based on a true story, in the life of Cecil Gaines.

Gaine's (Whitaker) life starts out as young boy in North Carolina, growing up on a cotton farm.  As a young boy he loses his father, and his mother does not recover from the loss so he leaves the plantation after years of serving in the house.  Cecil's experience as a house service provides him the experience to work his way through employment at various hotels.  While working at Washington's Excelsior Hotel he meets his wife Gloria (Winfrey), has two children with her but also eventually becomes so well liked that he lands himself a gig as a butler at the White House.

The meat of the film's script is connecting history to the person, showing Cecil working in every administration from Eisenhower to Reagan, and how race played out in dialogue and debate within each administration.  Cecil's oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo) see history from a different lens finding himself in every Civil Rights movement from the Freedom Writers, the Black Panthers, and fighting for Madela's freedom in the late eighties. 

Danny Strong who wrote the scripts for HBO's Game Change, and Recount has knack for writing about historical situations; he makes real life events within both of those stories concise to the point analysis of the one or central event within each film.  Strong's script is ambitious, and he is taking the next best steps within his career, but the script and long reaching historical connections is where this film often flounders.  The dichotomy between history and personal is often contrived, you can also see this with the portrayal in each and every one of the Presidents, who distract from the films message. 

The most genuine moments within the script come while Cecil is with his friends and family at their homes.  There is more emotional weight watching them as they work through their various experiences, rather than watching Liev Schirber (who plays LBJ) on the toilet, or Robin Williams (Eisenhower) painting.  Watching Cecil and Gloria work through the pain and anguish of the years they have spent trying to do right by each other, their family, and friends, and as they age through the years is the more interesting part of the story.

The reason this film succeeds is because of four people, Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' and producer Laura Ziskin. Whitaker is simply fantastic as Cecil; he operates as this calming force in the lives of his co-workers, and Presidents while trying to navigate the struggles within the era, and his own family turmoil.  Whitaker is one of the best actors because we he takes on roles you find this distinct character/person with whom you feel connected because of the way in which he transforms. 

 Whitaker has dynamite chemistry with Oprah, as a husband and wife team there love, and anguish ring true.  Gloria battles booze, and infidelity as she navigates her husbands commitment to his job, and she must be the glue and bond which keeps their family together.  Oprah is simply electric within this role, stealing many scenes, but also playing the emotional heft masterfully; she is a talented actress, her other work in The Color Purple has proved she has the chops.

Laura Ziskin will be given a lot of credit when (if) this this film is also a financial success.  Ziskin who passed away recently pushed hard when she read the story “A Butler Well Served by This Election” in the Washington Post, which was about a man named Eugene Allen, who this film is based.  Ziskin is one of the forty producers listed on this film, but she was the brainchild who pushed hard for this film to be made.

With Ziskin's hard work to get this made, this film does have an incredible emotional impact, and while the script is lacking the tightness,  Lee Daniels' direction helps create an aura which helps make this film successful.  Daniels last film The Paperboy, while bad still showed potential, and his first big feature Precious has a style, clear to this man. Daniels took on an ambitious project, worked hard, and pushed to help make this an emotional story, which make you think about the evolution of our nation through the eyes of one man, and the forward movement making that still must be carried forward.

As with films which tackle this "Forrest Gump" like analysis of a man's journey through history, there are always bound to be some problems, even with Forrest Gump.  Gump has several contrived scenes, the Watergate one is one of the worst.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has a similar style, and tried to navigate this man's journey through time, although never trying too hard to connect him with history.  At the end each of the films, including The Butler has something, which makes each of them a solid movie experience, and that's heart.