Sunday, April 17, 2011

Death on the Nile (1978)

A murder is committed on a Nile steamer, but Hercule Poirot is on board to discover who did it. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Costume Design (WINNER)

This was mostly campaigned as connected to Murder on the Orient Express (1974); even the poster wears a striking resemblance. Yet, while Murder itself is not considered a great success, this one is even less. What it does share with its Agatha Christie predecessor is a just-as-impressive allstar cast: Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, George Kennedy and a couple more names.

As a murder mystery, it's a weak film. It's not that well directed, the screenplay is shaky and I guessed who the killer was as soon as the first murder happened. That's not because I'm a genius at such things, but because all the others were too less-striking to earn the title of the murderer. The performances are ok, none spectacular (Lansbury is the highlight) and the costume design win is pretty worthy. Bette Davis was fine, but she had already reached the age where she lost a bit of her acting hunger.

My rating for the film: 5/10. Nice to see the actors together, but not an interesting film.

A Ship Comes In (1928)

It tells the story of a family of immigrants coming to the United States. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar
Best Actress: Louise Dresser

Not much to say about this film, nominated in Oscar's first edition. It's a silent film with a lot of clich├ęs, no character development, no interesting plot, just a series of actions and the way the characters are reacting.

Watching it nowadays, it's difficult to sit through, because, unlike Sunrise or Wings, it brings nothing interesting to the table. Louise Dresser gives a short, ok performance mostly based on the intelligence in her eyes and not on anything that the screenplay might offer her.

My rating for the film: 3/10. Recommended to Oscar fans only.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Way Back (2010)

During WWII, Siberian gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Makeup

In the summer of 2010 people were already talking about this film. I myself thought at that time that, based on what we knew about it, it was a serious contender for Best Picture and Best Director. I had it for months on my prediction chart, but as nobody was picking it up, embracing it, etc, it just faded away. In the end it scored a Makeup nomination, and might I say a worthy one.

But it wasn't just the poor film distribution/campaign stopping The Way Back from making it big at the Oscars. It was also its poor quality to blame for the lack of success. I didn't like it. I might've enjoyed short scenes and some beautiful landscape, but I thought overall it was messy. Peter Weir is a good director, sometimes an incredible director, but definitely not successful as a writer. The dialogue is plain stupid at times, there are some casting mistakes and simply put the film just goes nowhere.

I thought Jim Sturgess's performance was awful at times and one of the 2 Romanian actors didn't do great either. Harris is fine, Saoirse is ok, Colin is cool - but nobody is great. And also: this film would've been much better in Russian; it feels confused and undecided and it lacks believability everytime the actors open their mouths and throw in some silly accents.

My rating for the film: 4.5/10. Way too long.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dogtooth (2010)

A husband and wife keep their teenage children imprisoned on their property, creating an alternative, abusive reality for them. [wiki]

Nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Foreign Language Film: Greece

As some of you might remember, I have a special relationship with Greece, as I had lived here for a while and I still come with work once every couple of months (actually, as I'm writing, I'm in Athens for 2 weeks). So I was hesitant to see Dogtooth, first because it's my first Greek film (and what a way to start) and mostly because I had heard of the controversy surrounding it and I didn't want to completely tear it apart, because of the respect I have for the people here - who were super excited it got nominated.

I was happy to discover it is not that bad. Dogtooth is a pretentious, arrogant, in many ways imature film, with a subject that will definitely not please everybody. On the bad side there's also the screenplay - taken too far and for no real reason, the ending which could've been much more powerful and, most of all, the unnecessary nudity. Keep in mind: it's not a film to watch with your parents: lots of vaginas, breasts, a penis in erection, and other forms of nudity. :) Also, an explicit sex scene which I suspect wasn't even simulated or acted. Why do I have a problem with this?! Because I don't think big-screen films should make you either horny or show excessive, unnecessary-for-the-story nudity just in an attempts to shock - for that we have porn. I don't want to be distracted while I'm focusing on a serious, cinema-related film.

On the good side: well, the direction. This guy is a much better director than a writer. Sure, he needs to tone it down a bit, stop showing off, but I swear: there's at least a scene I have no idea how he managed to film it!!! Either there was real torture involved, or he has a technique that is terribly surprising at times - those who've seen it probably know I'm referring to the dogtooth scene towards the end. How did he make it so real? Visual effects maybe? No idea.

My rating for the film: 7/10. Because it makes no sense at times, but it surprises in others. I will remember it more than I'll remember In a Better World, but I'm lowering the grade as I was annoyed by the nudity.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

As Harry races against time and evil to destroy the Horcruxes, he uncovers the existence of three most powerful objects in the wizarding world: the Deathly Hallows. [imdb]

Nominated for 2 Oscars:

Best Art Direction

Best Visual Effects

The confusion called Harry Potter continues. To say that it's hard to follow would be unjust: because they never even bother to give you enough info to put it all together. Talk about screenplay gaps! This might make sense for those who are reading the books, but the rest of us: we got lost a couple of episodes ago.

Plot over twist over plot over twist... I hope they can glue them for the final part. Really, know, why do they make them so complicated, not to mention those silly screenplay solutions. Otherwise, the film is nicely done from a technical point of view, the Art Direction is fine, the Visual Effects are fine, and Ralph and Helena BC are both cool to watch. Hope we'll get a lot of Ralph Fiennes in the next one.

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. And I still feel like I'm being too generous.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In a Better World (2010)

The lives of two Danish families cross each other, and an extraordinary but risky friendship comes into bud. [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar:
Best Foreign Language Film: Denmark (WINNER)

I have to admit this is the first Susanne Bier film I'm seeing, as I've never got the chance to see After the Wedding, Brothers or not even Things We Lost in the Fire. The main reason I saw it of course is because it was nominated and moreso: it won! It's also the first film I'm seeing out of the 5 nominees, so for now I cannot compare them.

In a Better World is a serious film, quite well put together, with no obvious flaws in both screenplay & direction. Even so, due to its subject, I found it hard to enjoy and it really became a bit difficult to watch at one point. It's not a feel-good movie, it's quite slow at times and it didn't make me curious until the very last end.

On the very plus side: the beautiful cinematography that captures both African landscape and also magnificent close-ups with the characters. The actors all give very good performances, especially the men. Watch out for the kid named William Johnk Nielsen, in his first role - he's got both the looks and the talent to have a great career in the following years.

My rating for the film: 7.5/10. It could've been a 7, but some scenes are too honest and well acted to be ignored.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Country Strong (2010)

A drama centered on a rising country-music songwriter (Hedlund) who sparks with a fallen star (Paltrow). [imdb]

Nominated for 1 Oscar

Best Original Song

I don't remember the last time I saw such a bad Oscar nominated film, and it's not like I suspected it: it came out of nowhere. Because Country Strong is almost unwatchable in its first hour: the screenplay is one of the worst that ever came my way, with dialogue and scenes that go beyond cliche, and so badly put together that they don't even create a cheesy enviroment, but an ambitious yet failing mess.

The one decent scene is with the sick child, but other than that: pure nonsense. Gwyneth has lost any real hunger for acting, and if I would've been in the Razzie judging group I would've definitely considered her for a nom. The rest of them are just floating around, because there's no real direction to this film. The songs are ok, none that seemed spectacular to me, but they couldn't save this trainwreck anyway.

My rating for the film: 2/10. I was considering a 2.5 or 3, but that wouldn't be fair to Alice in Wonderland, which seems quite thrilling by comparison.