Friday, February 29, 2008

reVIEW (39)

When I first got wind of the film adaptation of The Prestige, it got me fired up and looking forward to it like nobody’s business. What can I say? It just sounded like one of those totally geeky films.
Consider: brought to us by Christopher Nolan (the man who’d not only given us Memento, he’d also just successfully re-launched the Batman franchise), it was a film based on a World Fantasy Award-winning novel about feuding magicians that was going to bring together Wolverine, Batman, Gollum, and the Goblin King, all on one screen. Oh, and Alfred too. And Scarlett Johannson.
Geekapalooza, here we come.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is “The Great Danton,” and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), “The Professor,” two magicians caught in a bitter rivalry sparked by an on-stage tragedy early on in their careers. From that point on, misery is writ large in their lives, as their obsessions gradually consume their very humanity.
Based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige is a smart and imaginative period piece that cleverly intersects with real life by featuring Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) as a pivotal character in the proceedings. But the two magicians and the wizard aren’t the only ones warping the audience’s perception.
Like The Great Danton and The Professor, Nolan himself pulls a couple of tricks from his directorial hat. The beauty of The Prestige though, is that everything’s in plain sight, and still, that ending packs a wallop.
And it isn’t even like a Sixth Sense smack-you-on-the-upside-of-your-head plot flip. No, The Prestige’s climax is arguably a subtler construct.

To use the magician’s lexicon, the film has two ultimate “prestiges,” one prosaic and realistic, the other improbable and astounding. Both, if you (as they implore throughout the course of the film) “watch closely,” are readily revealed to the audience. Not underlined and explicated, mind you, but revealed.
Thus, neither comes as a real surprise at the end. Somehow though, in my case at least, the subconscious refused to fully consider the ramifications of these truths, because to do so would acknowledge the extreme and terrible lengths both men were willing to go to for the sake of their art.
Thus, they’re there, but not there. Because in spite of the light that Nolan shines on these truths, it’s really what’s going on in their shadows that will ultimately bother and disturb.

It’s a dark and tragic tale Nolan tells, and he tells it with that masterly skill he constantly displays in his films. It helps, of course, to have a great script (co-written with brother Jonathan), and a constant cinematographer like Wally Pfister in your corner (nominated for an Oscar for his work on The Prestige), shooting a cast like this one.*
There is a shadowy allure to The Prestige that makes it difficult to resist this cautionary tale of the steep and horrible price of revenge and jealousy and obsession.
If you haven’t seen this one, please do.
And keep in mind… watch closely…

* Pfister was also nominated for an Oscar for Nolan’s Batman Begins.

Parting shot: A review of Batman Begins can be found in the Archive.

(The Prestige OS courtesy of; novel cover art courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Wristcutters: A Love Story opens with Zia (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit) cleaning up his room, before he proceeds to slit his wrists. But even as he lies bleeding to death, he sees a stray, sad little dust bunny which has managed to escape his attention, off in the corner…
Based on Etgar Keret’s novella Kneller’s Happy Campers, Wristcutters is a black comedy that posits an afterlife for suicides which is pretty much identical to this world, except it’s worse; with a population made up entirely of people who’ve offed themselves, you can imagine it isn’t an awfully cheery place.
So Zia finds himself working at Kamikaze Pizza, and generally missing his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb), till he meets Russian would-be rocker Eugene (Shea Whigham, who appears in the upcoming horror films, Town Creek and Splinter), and subsequently discovers what happened to Desiree after his death, knowledge that propels him to go on a road trip to try and find the one thing he believes will make his current situation bearable.

Written and directed by Goran Dukic, Wristcutters takes this bizarre and intriguing premise and sadly, doesn’t do too much with it.
Yes, there are some amusing bits in here, and the final ten minutes or so are suffused with a melancholy that almost manages to move, but the vast majority of the film doesn’t live up to its premise. The narrative just doesn’t, excuse me, come alive; it fails to properly engage the viewer in Zia’s quest. Which is tragic, since the film’s concept really does have a lot of potential.

A large part of why Wristcutters didn’t work for me is the way Dukic fails to take full advantage of the road movie genre to create an involving narrative. A road movie, by its very nature, has a story that constantly moves forward, that gets characters from point A to point Zed, ultimately changed by the journey, transformed by velocity and geography.
The trouble with Wristcutters is that the journey doesn’t feel very transformative.
Once Zia leaves the city, the only time the film kicks into a passably interesting gear again is when Zia and company encounter Kneller (Tom Waits). The introduction of hitchhiker Mikal (Catacombs’ Shannyn Sossamon) doesn’t really do too much for the proceedings, even after we discover her motivation for traveling: she claims she’s here because of a mistake, and she’s looking for the people in charge to set things to right.

The major culprit I feel, is Dukic’s script, which doesn’t seem to afford moments and opportunities for the narrative to properly display who these characters are, and what they feel for each other.
For some reason which I can’t really pin down (beyond the fact that it’s also essentially a road movie), this reminded me of Liev Schreiber’s film adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated, except Schreiber’s effort exquisitely captured the right tone of epiphany and melancholy that I felt Wristcutters needed in order for it to work.
In the end, Wristcutters isn’t a terrible film, and it’s certainly more original than the average movie out there, whether indie or Hollywood. But because the central idea was so tantalizing, I just felt that there should have been something more substantial there than what I ultimately witnessed.

Parting shot: A review of Catacombs can be found in the Archive.

(Wristcutters: A Love Story OS courtesy of

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

55.1 THAT’S THE SPIRIT! 2008
Juno took home three awards at Saturday night’s Independent Spirit Awards, winning for Best Feature, Best Female Lead (Ellen Page), and Best First Screenplay (Diablo Cody).
And while that’s certainly good news, the win that really got me jazzed was that Once took Best Foreign Film. Brilliant!
For a complete list of the winners, go here.

55.2 SOUND OFF 2008
Meanwhile, at the 55th Golden Reel Awards (also held last Saturday night), Juan Antonio Bayona‘s El Orfanato (The Orphanage) won Best Sound Editing in Feature Film: Foreign, Lost won Best Sound Editing in Television: Short Form – Sound Effects and Foley, for the episode “Left Behind,” and Superman: Doomsday won Best Sound Editing: Direct to Video (actually a tie with Return to House on Haunted Hill).
Michael Bay was also honoured with the 2008 MPSE Filmmaker’s Award. (Whatever you may think of his films, they do sound good, don’t they?)
For a complete list of the winners, go here.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners at this year’s Independent Spirit and Golden Reel Awards.

Parting shot: Reviews of Juno, Once, and Superman: Doomsday can be found in the Archive, along with episodic recaps/reactions to Lost.

(OS’s and Lost Season 4 ad courtesy of; Superman: Doomsday DVD cover art courtesy of

reVIEW (38)

“There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same, and time is divided into two parts: before this, and after this.”

A bit of voice-over narration that sounds suspiciously as if it was lifted from Rosellen Brown’s excellent novel, Before And After, and a good case in point of what’s wrong with Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen: there is nothing original here.
A convicted serial killer named Reece (Elias Koteas) is executed for his crimes, but somehow manages to wreak more havoc on the innocent. Let’s see: Shocker, The First Power, The Horror Show.
Early on in the film, we are also shown that there is actually an entity that jumps from body to body, and it’s actually this entity that’s behind the murders. Ummm… The Hidden? Even Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday used this tack.

Now, one may argue that in this day and age, nothing is original anymore; Shakespeare’s done it all.
At the very least though, one can still give old material a new spin and come up with a good (or at times, great) piece of work: Ridley Scott’s visionary Alien reworked the Ten Little Indians scenario, gave us a haunted house in outer space, and produced a sci-fi/horror classic.
Sadly, Fallen doesn’t aim very high. It fails to do anything innovative with the material, and worse, doesn’t even succeed in giving the audience a thrill-packed ride.

“Cops are chosen people, Lou.”
-- Hobbes

The fault lies in Fallen’s script; written by Nicholas Kazan (who penned the riveting Reversal of Fortune for Barbet Schroeder), the screenplay is amazingly flat, a tension-free exercise in by-the-numbers suspense.
Denzel Washington (as Detective John Hobbes), though bringing a certain sensitivity and sympathy to his character, doesn’t get much to work with. And though I’m always glad to see Donald Sutherland (as Lt. Stanton), he isn’t given much to work with either, and ends up underutilized and wasted.

It seems a mystery why setting up the entire scenario for Hobbes and his adversary Azazel, takes a full hour, considering that anyone who’s seen the film’s trailer knows what Fallen is about.
Then, just when you think there could be a promising direction for the narrative to take—when theology teacher Greatta Milano (Schindler’s List’s Embeth Davidtz) mentions a possible source of help—Kazan’s script seems to just disregard the avenue completely, leaving the audience to languidly follow in the movie’s footsteps (or rather, bound two or three steps ahead, waiting impatiently for the film to catch up).
And though the squad room banter is snappy and commendable, one doesn’t really sign up for Fallen to see Hill Street Blues on the big screen either.

Of course, the film isn’t helped any by Hoblit’s matter-of-course directing.
Let’s face it—Hoblit’s Primal Fear wasn’t anything to write home about either; the only noteworthy thing about Primal Fear was Edward Norton’s stunning performance. (Well… okay. Laura Linney was good too.)
Sure, the Azazel POV shots in Fallen are interesting, but Michael Wadleigh did it in Wolfen, as did Paul Schrader in his remake of Cat People.
Save for a couple of intense body-jumping sequences about halfway through Fallen, most of the time, the audience is left with idle moments, allowing their minds to wander freely (much like the disembodied Azazel) and predict what’s going to happen next.
Ultimately, you just know how the film will end, including whose body Azazel will occupy in the final battle of wills with Hobbes.

“I have so many, many ways.”
-- Azazel

Curious, this penchant Azazel has for singing; I have yet to come across any reference to indicate Azazel has some musical bent (unless I’m reading the wrong books). The only link I can find (and it’s a long stretch, tenuous at best) is in the original Greek root for the word “tragedy.”
Or maybe Azazel just picked up the habit recently, in karaoke bars…
But I digress.
Going back to Fallen, ultimately we’re left with a drab film that doesn’t break any new ground, and spending two hours to find this out is, to my mind, not a very productive way to pass the time.
Not even the “surprise” concerning the voice-over bits (which are quite frankly annoying and intrusive) does much for the film.
Which all leads me to one inescapable conclusion: if you aren’t going to say anything new, then what’s the point?
As good old Jack once said in As Good As It Gets, “If you can’t at least be mildly interesting, then shut the hell up.”
A rather apt quote for this film, I think.

(Fallen OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

(The above is a slightly altered version of a previously published review entitled, “Fallen Flat On Its Face.”)

Monday, February 25, 2008

HEY, IF IT ISN’T OSCAR! 2008 (3)

So Oscar’s 80th has come and gone, and first off, here are the wins that had me cheering…

No Country For Old Men:
Best Picture
Best Director (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Joel & Ethan Coen)

Best Song (“Falling Slowly”)

The Golden Compass:
Best Visual Effects (Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, and Trevor Wood)

Best Original Screenplay (Diablo Cody)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
Best Art Direction (Dante Ferretti, Art Direction; Francesca Lo Schiavo, Set Decoration)

So, yeah, it’s still a sad thing that Zodiac didn’t get any love, and yes, it’s another sad thing that both Away From Her and Eastern Promises went home statue-less, but the night had some great surprises too.
Firstly, though I haven’t seen Michael Clayton, I’ve been a big fan of Tilda Swinton for ages, so I’m jazzed that she got Best Supporting Actress.
And while I’m happy The Golden Compass took Best Visual Effects (I was concerned either of the two box office juggernaut nominees would steal the award), and No Country For Old Men got a goodly amount of statues, the best bit of the night for me was “Falling Slowly” standing triumphant in the Best Original Song dust-up.
And when Jon Stewart brought Marketa back so she could speak her piece, well, that made the win and the moment even more precious.

Congratulations, one and all. (You can find a complete list of the night’s winners here.)

Parting shot: Was it just that I blinked and missed it, or were Roy Scheider and Brad Renfro really absent from the In Memoriam montage? (‘Cause if they were, shame on you, Oscar…)

Parting shot 2: Reviews of Away From Her, Eastern Promises, The Golden Compass, Juno, No Country For Old Men, Once, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Zodiac can be found in the Archive.

(The Golden Compass OS courtesy of; all other OS’s courtesy of

Friday, February 22, 2008


When a soul crosses to the Afterlife, it journeys into one of two opposing realms:
a divine source of harmony and wellbeing;
a consuming source of evil and malevolence.

A midworld exists for the souls whose judgement has yet to be decided.
It is commonly referred to as Purgatory.

For centuries, 7 Arc Angels, Protectors of the Light, and 7 Fallen, Soldiers of the Dark, have silently fought for balance of power over these unclaimed souls.
Each side is restricted to sending only one warrior in every cycle.
Upon arrival, they must assume a human form.

At present, Darkness rules, and has the strongest grip on the City that it has ever held.

Thus does Shane Abbess’ Gabriel open, a curious hybrid of The Crow and The Matrix, as fleshbound angels and demons wage war in a decrepit, rain-soaked metropolis perpetually shrouded in darkness.
This could have been something magnificent, but as the age-old saying goes, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (And fittingly enough, the same can be said of the film’s divinities who find themselves trapped in weak, mortal shells.)

The concept is nothing new, of course, the eternal struggle between Light and Dark, warriors who battle for the souls of humanity, unseen and unheralded. And the cinematic influences are all too obvious: the guns and karate chops in a world removed from the real one (thank you, Wachowskis), where most of the action takes place in an urban environment designed with a Gothic-Punk aesthetic (thank you, Alex Proyas).
But the script does succeed in capturing esoteric concepts and ideas usually reserved for written fiction. The manner in which the angels (or Arcs, as they are referred to in the film) refer to the Source, and the Light, feels apt somehow, reverential. Existential, philosophical, and metaphysical matters are also dealt with head-on by the narrative.
The opening title sequence itself, as Gabriel (Andy Whitfield) experiences the sudden trauma of corporeality, is a powerful indicator of the knowledge that informs the film’s script (by Abbess and Matt Hylton Todd, who has a minor role as the Arc Ithuriel).
His now human sensorium floods him with alien stimuli; his voice is no longer a divine sound capable of vast destruction; he can no longer fly. Gabriel writhes in the blasted wasteland which surrounds the City, an entity once shining and luminous, now only meat.
The sequence could have been potent and emotionally wrenching, if only Whitfield had captured the moment. As it is, it plays more like sections from a music video than anything else.

Now, just to set the record straight, Whitfield is not a terrible actor; I’ve seen far worse action leads. Whitfield though, never quite manages to humanize Gabriel, to make him anything more than the self-assured idealist he so clearly is in this urban cesspool.
And in a sense, Whitfield’s lucky, because next to Dwaine Stevenson (who plays baddie Sammael), Whitfield looks like a solid gold Oscar winner. There’s nothing remotely malevolent or intimidating in Stevenson’s performance, save perhaps for some creepy-a$$ contacts, sadly offset by a ridiculous moptop.
Most of the baddies, in fact, don’t really leave much of an impression, save perhaps for Asmodeus (Home and Away‘s Michael Piccirilli), who runs a brothel called the Funhouse.
There’s a little more life over on the Arc’s side, with Harry Pavlidis doing his best bitter Al Pacino as Uriel, though surprisingly, the one performer who brings the greatest amount of genuine emotion to the screen is See No Evil‘s Samantha Noble, who plays Amitiel. Despite her pouty model looks, Noble proves to be the most convincing actor of the bunch.
Situations like this can be frustrating, particularly when the material has some substance and merit to it. The final confrontation between Gabriel and Sammael is the sequence perhaps most compromised by the weak performances, considering the weighty and dramatic conflict that takes place between the two characters.

Aside from the shortcomings of the cast though, what the narrative fails to do is to insert a human element into the story. Focused as we are on the Arcs and their lofty, divine mission fallen by the wayside, we never really get a proper sense of the squalor and misery the City’s unjudged masses must experience as their daily lot.
Yes, we’re told the City has hordes of homeless, and a soup kitchen figures into the plot, but Abbess never puts a face to the suffering. The story never introduces us to any of the struggling masses whose souls are being fought for. As a result, most of the philosophical debates remain in the realm of rhetoric. We never get a true sense of what these angels are suffering for.

We see their suffering, yes, particularly Amitiel’s, whose degradation would be terrible for a human; in an angel’s case, it’s even far more horrific. But the reason for that suffering is never really given a context within the narrative. Abbess is ultimately unsuccessful in making an argument for Amitiel and all the other disillusioned Arcs to return and resume their divine tasks. Why should they fight for a humanity that doesn’t even have a genuine personality?
The sense of souls in the balance (certainly a more weighty proposition than if they were merely fighting for lives) is never distilled by either Abbess or the script into a raw and potent force that the audience can latch onto, giving us that big picture the Arcs are privy to, and the anchor necessary to ground the narrative in an emotional arena.
This is, I feel, the biggest reason why Gabriel’s climax loses some of its punch, since the film never completely elicits the audience’s sympathy for the plight of the City dwellers.

On a more superficial level, the action sequences also, sadly, come up a tad short.
This is certainly not Master Yuen Wo Ping’s Matrix-stylings. This isn’t even Equilibrium/Ultraviolet-level action. The bullets-and-kung fu flourishes just aren’t flashy or well-choreographed enough to qualify as a distinct plus.
Having mentioned Equilibrium and Ultraviolet though, Gabriel feels like it could have benefited tremendously by having the highly visual approach that is Kurt Wimmer’s stock-in-trade. If Wimmer had traded in the weak script of Ultraviolet for the potentially powerful Gabriel script, now that would have been a film to look out for.
Or if Wimmer was unavailable, then Nochnoy Dozor‘s (Night Watch) Timur Bekmambetov would have been great too, a director who could just go apesh!t with the movie’s look and attitude.
But that’s all what-if’s and if-only’s, which is a game I try not to indulge in when I write a review. (And no offense meant to Mr. Abbess, but it’s just that there’s so much in the script that you got right, that it’s frustrating the end result didn’t kick me in the a$$ the way it could have.)

All told though, I think I enjoyed this a whole lot more than either God’s Army, or its sequel. Yes, the original had Christopher Walken, as well as Viggo years before he got his visa to Middle Earth, but God’s Army just felt lacking somehow, and I was even less thrilled with its sequel.
In Gabriel, Shane Abbess came within tantalizing eyesight of the angels vs. demons cinematic masterpiece I’ve long been waiting for. But the fact that he came close gives me hope.
Just as Purgatory always exists with the hope, however slim, that Light will fall upon its dimly-lit streets, so can I await the day that Heaven’s Falcons will finally smite demonic a$$ in the full cinematic glory they deserve.
And when that happens, I’ll know that Gabriel helped us get there.

(Gabriel OS courtesy of [BE Design].)

No Country For Old Men was recognized at the 44th annual Cinema Audio Society Awards, where Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon, was also honoured with the CAS Filmmaker Award.

Meanwhile, at the 58th annual ACE EDDIE Awards, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street took home the Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy or Musical) award, thanks to the excellent work by editor Chris Lebenzon, while the Chuck Pilot took home the Best Edited One-Hour Series for Commercial Television award, courtesy of Norman Buckley.

And, umm, meanwhiler, the Costume Designers Guild honoured Colleen Atwood’s glorious work on Sweeney Todd as well, for Excellence in Period Film, while Ruth Myers was recognized twice, for Excellence in Fantasy Film (for her work on The Golden Compass), as well as the Lacoste Career Achievement in Film Award.
On the TV front, Robert Blackman took home the Period/Fantasy Television Series award, for dressing up the cast of Pushing Daisies.

To one and all, congratulations.

Parting shot: Reviews of The Golden Compass, No Country For Old Men, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street can be found in the Archive, along with episodic recaps/reactions of Chuck and Pushing Daisies.

(No Country For Old Men and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street OS’s courtesy of; Chuck image and The Golden Compass OS courtesy of; Pushing Daisies image courtesy of

reVIEW (37)

Iain Softley’s The Skeleton Key is the story of Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson), a caregiver who, disillusioned with her job at a New Orleans hospice, finds work through the classified ads at a rambling antebellum home in the Louisiana swamps, caring for Ben Devereaux (the impeccable John Hurt), who apparently suffered a stroke in the home’s attic.
Cue strange goings-on, and bang, we’re right in the middle of the latest Hollywood offering where things go bump in the night, and the audience is expected to scream shrilly and jump in their seats.

Now, to be fair, The Skeleton Key is far from horrible. It’s evident what Ehren Kruger (who also penned the scripts for the terribly flawed Arlington Road and Scream 3, as well as those of the English-language remakes, The Ring—which was disappointing—and The Ring Two—which was brilliant) wanted to do in The Skeleton Key, and the effort is admirable, though the story’s pacing could have done with a little more tightening, a problem also evident in Kruger’s script for The Ring.
Even though the question “So if that was the whole point of the exercise, why didn’t all this happen as early as Day 1?” is answered neatly and effectively by the film’s climax, the plot still manages to leisurely stroll through a languid Louisiana afternoon, when it should be walking at an ever-increasing clip (then breaking out into a good old-fashioned run for dear life) through alligator-infested swamps.
As with The Ring, the sense of a threat lurking ever closer doesn’t come completely through.

On the plus side though, as I said earlier, Kruger’s effort is admirable. Yes, there are ghosts (of a sort) in this tale of terror, but they are thankfully not of the recent Hollywood variety, rotting and moldering, yet still managing to look very slick and oh-so-MTV, all jerky and quick-cut.
And there is an attempt to mask the truth of the final reveal (you may or may not figure it out, in its bits or its entirety, depending on how involved you allow yourself to be, and how shrewdly observant you are), which turns out to be a whole lot more effective than some of the more recent Hollywood horror efforts like Hide and Seek.
It also helps that it isn’t painful to watch Kate Hudson, who, though not an exceptional actress, still manages to avoid the sort of performance one gets from a Julia Roberts or a Sandra Bullock. Caroline also just has enough psychological baggage to make her more than the usual one-dimensional cutout that sometimes populates this sort of film. And, as I said, John Hurt is impeccable. (The last time anyone made the most of what could potentially have been a non-role was when Glenn Close did the coma thing as Sunny von Bulow in Barbet Schroeder’s astounding Reversal of Fortune.) Additionally, Gena Rowlands is also effective as the prickly Violet Devereaux, Ben’s wife.

Sadly, though Iain Softley’s direction is certainly not flat, it still does not quite attain the level needed for the audience to actually feel, taste, and smell the locale, the kind of level that produces atmosphere, that makes us feel the cloying humidity of Louisiana; the kind of level achieved by Alan Parker in Angel Heart, or Paul Schrader in his remake of Cat People.
If memory serves me right, it was Schrader who said that he decided to set his redux of Cat People in New Orleans because it was the sort of city where strange things could be believed to be possible.
And yes, we are treated to certain facets of hoodoo, enough to make us shiver a bit, but far from enough to actually leave us marked, or, to use hoodoo parlance, “crossed.” So it’s sad that the setting isn’t fully exploited, given the eerie richness of New Orleans and the surrounding bayou country.

Ultimately, The Skeleton Key (like Softley’s “is Kevin Spacey an alien or not” effort, K-PAX) is a film that clearly wanted to be something a little off the beaten track, but in the end, turned out flawed and vaguely dissatisfying.
Still, though The Skeleton Key may not open all of its doors satisfactorily enough for the discriminating viewer, it is nonetheless an interesting space in which to move around.

(The Skeleton Key OS courtesy of

(The above is a slightly altered version of a previously published review entitled “That Hoodoo That You Do.”)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

This year’s Saturn Award nominations have just been announced, and those that made me go “Woot!” are:

30 Days of Night:
Best Horror Film
Best Make-Up (Davina Lamont)

Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film
Best Actor, Film (Gerard Butler)
Best Supporting Actor, Film (David Wenham)
Best Supporting Actress, Film (Lena Headey)
Best Direction (Zack Snyder)
Best Writing (Michael Gordon, Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad)
Best Music (Tyler Bates)
Best Costume (Michael Wilkinson)
Best Make-Up (Shaun Smith, Mark Rappaport)
Best Special Effects (Chris Watts, Grant Freckelton, Derek Wentworth, Daniel Leduc)

Battlestar Galactica:
Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Best Presentation on Television [Razor]
Best Actor on Television (Edward James Olmos)

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon:
Best DVD Release

Best Writing (Roger Avary, Neil Gaiman)
Best Animated Film

Blade Runner:
Best Special Edition DVD Release (5 Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition)

Best Actress, Film (Ashley Judd)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind:
Best Special Edition DVD Release (30th Anniversay – Blu Ray)

Best Science Fiction Film
Best Supporting Actress, Film (Lizzy Caplan)

The Dark Crystal:
Best Classic Film DVD Release

Death Proof:
Best Special Edition DVD Release (Grindhouse Presentation: Extended & Unrated)

Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Best Actor on Television (Michael C. Hall)
Best Supporting Actor on Television (Erik King)
Best Supporting Actress on Television (Jennifer Carpenter)
Best Supporting Actress on Television (Jaime Murray)

Eastern Promises:
Best Actor, Film (Viggo Mortensen)
Best Actress, Film (Naomi Watts)
Best International Film

The Golden Compass:
Best Fantasy Film
Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Dakota Blue Richards)
Best Costume (Ruth Myers)
Best Special Effects (Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Wood)

Best Horror Film

Best Network Television Series
Best Supporting Actor on Television (Greg Grunberg)
Best Supporting Actor on Television (Masi Oka)
Best Supporting Actress on Television (Hayden Panettiere)
Best Television Series on DVD (Season 1)

El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth):
Best Special Edition DVD Release (Platinum Series)

Best Network Television Series
Best Actor on Television (Matthew Fox)
Best Actress on Television (Evangeline Lilly)
Best Supporting Actor on Television (Michael Emerson)
Best Supporting Actor on Television (Josh Holloway)
Best Supporting Actor on Television (Terry O’Quinn)
Best Supporting Actress on Television (Elizabeth Mitchell)
Best Television Series on DVD (The Complete Third Season)

The Mist:
Best Horror Film
Best Supporting Actress, Film (Marcia Gay Harden)
Best Direction (Frank Darabont)

The Nin9s:
Best DVD Release

No Country For Old Men:
Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film
Best Supporting Actor, Film (Javier Bardem)
Best Writing (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

El Orfanato (The Orphanage):
Best Actress, Film (Belen Rueda)
Best International Film

Planet Terror:
Best Supporting Actress, Film (Rose McGowan)
Best Make-Up (Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Jake Garber)

Pushing Daisies:
Best Network Television Series
Best Actor on Television (Lee Pace)
Best Actress on Television (Anna Friel)

Best Fantasy Film
Best Supporting Actress, Film (Michelle Pfeiffer)
Best Costume (Sammy Sheldon)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
Best Horror Film
Best Actor, Film (Johnny Depp)
Best Actress, Film (Helena Bonham Carter)
Best Supporting Actor, Film (Alan Rickman)
Best Direction (Tim Burton)
Best Writing (John Logan)
Best Costume (Colleen Atwood)
Best Make-Up (Peter Owen, Ivana Primorac)

Twin Peaks:
Best Retro Television Series on DVD (The Definitive Gold Box Edition)

Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film

The other films reviewed here at the Iguana that also received nominations (some, head-scratchingly so) were:

1408 (Best Horror Film; Best Actor, Film [John Cusack])
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Best Science Fiction Film)
Ghost Rider (Best Horror Film)
I Am Legend (Best Science Fiction Film; Best Actor, Film [Will Smith])
Spider-Man 3 (Best Fantasy Film; Best Supporting Actor, Film [James Franco]; Best Direction [Sam Raimi]; Best Special Effects)
Sunshine (Best Science Fiction Film)
Transformers (Best Science Fiction Film; Best Special Effects)

Guillermo del Toro is also being honoured this year with the George Pal Memorial Award.
For a complete (and downloadable) list of this year’s nominees, go here.
The winners will be announced on June 24, 2008 at the 34th Annual Saturn Awards, in Universal City, California.

Parting shot: Reviews of 30 Days of Night, 300, 1408, Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Beowulf, Bug, Death Proof, Eastern Promises, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, The Golden Compass, I Am Legend, El Laberinto Del Fauno, The Nin9s, No Country For Old Men, Planet Terror, Spider-Man 3, Stardust, Sunshine, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Transformers, and Zodiac can be found in the Archive, along with episodic recaps/reviews of Battlestar Galactica, Dexter, Heroes, Lost, and Pushing Daisies.

(OS's and Lost Season 4 ad courtesy of

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Memory is a vital component of what makes up our individuality. It’s the foundation of who we are as a person. And not just our own memory, but also the memory of those around us; after all, to a certain extent, who we are is also dictated by how others see us.
Memory is at the core of Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut, Away From Her.
In this incredibly moving adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story, “The Bear Came Over The Mountain,” Polley’s co-star in No Such Thing, the fantastic (and Oscar-nominated) Julie Christie, plays Fiona Anderson, a woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease.

I’ll freely admit at this point, that it took quite a while for me to muster the courage to watch Away From Her, afraid as I was that it would be a difficult film to sit through, given its subject matter.
And sure enough, within the first few minutes of the film’s running time, when the first sign of Fiona’s fading memory exhibits itself, I could feel the ache in my chest.
Away From Her is definitely the most emotionally wrenching film I’ve seen from 2006,* and it’s a singular triumph for Polley, who I’ve loved since I first encountered in April of 1999, initially in Doug Liman’s Go, then a short two weeks later, in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.
In her feature-length directorial debut, not only does she adapt the short story with a tender artistry that keeps it from devolving into melodramatic schmaltz, but she also keenly directs both Christie and her co-star Gordon Pinsent (who plays Grant, Fiona’s husband of 44 years), performers who seem effortlessly imbued with a graceful melancholy that favours silences and looks over copious tears and histrionics.
What gives such emotional weight to the tragic price the disease exacts though, is the tender familiarity that so clearly exists between the characters. If the couple in question had been young and generic Hollywood stars, the term would be “chemistry.” For thespians like Christie and Pinsent though, the only term that seems right, is “love.”

The degeneration of a loved one (whether mental or physical) is always an agonizing ordeal, for all parties involved. Regardless of the particular circumstances, there is a kind of emotional dying that takes place, as the life of the relationship between the stricken individual and his or her loved one also languishes.
This is inevitable.
But what Away From Her is saying is, within the confines of that large inevitability, there are certain choices that one can snatch away and hold against one’s chest, decisions (and sacrifices) that can be made which will determine exactly how many people die when the stricken individual takes leave.
Those choices aren’t easy, certainly, but they’re the difference between being prisoners to circumstance and wanderers traveling by the light of fate.

* The most emotionally wrenching film from 2006 that wasn’t a horror film like The Living and the Dead or Right At Your Door, that is.

Parting shot: Sarah Polley’s script is also up for an Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, though admittedly, the competition is fierce, with No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood also vying for the statue.

(Away From Her OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

Monday, February 18, 2008


Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is pregnant by her track nerd best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Certain she can’t possibly be mature enough to raise a child, she scours the Penny Saver for some “Desperately Seeking Spawn” ads, and finds apparently picture perfect couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to be the adoptive parents.
The rest is all gestation, hormones, and the vagaries of the human heart.

Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Thank You For Smoking, Juno, displays a snarkily sensitive charm thanks in large part to an Oscar-nominated script by Diablo Cody. Informing the film with a likewise Oscar-nominated turn, Page’s on-point performance has also helped Juno take the Little Movie That Could road previously traveled by Little Miss Sunshine, a road that’s taken it all the way to Oscar Night.
Aside from Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay nominations, the film also got nods for Best Director and Best Picture.
At the time of this review’s writing, it’s also grossed more than $100 million at the US box office, thus turning out to be, much like its title character, a charming anomaly. Little indie movies like this don’t normally gross in the nine figure range. But Juno’s found its audience, and for small movies like this, that’s always a good thing.

As much as Ellen Page takes center stage here (and has got the Oscar nomination to prove it), the rest of Juno’s cast is likewise fantastic, made up of comic gems like Arrested Development’s Bateman and Cera, and Spider-Man‘s J.K. Simmons and The West Wing‘s Allison Janney, who play Mac and Bren, Juno’s father and stepmother. Even Garner—as the woman who has everything she could want, except the possibility of ever being a biological mother—is good here, and I’m not normally a big Garner fan.
Naturally, it helps when the script actually provides the cast with interesting characters to portray. It’s refreshing when a film about a teen-ager doesn’t depict its adult characters (particularly the teen-ager’s parents) as well-meaning, bumbling idiots. Mac and Bren are the sort of parents you’d want to have in your corner, if you ever found yourself in a tight spot: capable, no-nonsense, and funny.
The prospective adoptive couple are likewise not your cookie cutter rich fat cats hungry for a cute little bundle of joy, though they may first appear to be.
And then there’s Juno…

Apparently, Juno has struck a major chord with the American youth. As the film has achieved the movie Nirvana of mainstream crossover success (even its soundtrack has sold remarkably well), it’s turned out that Juno is the sort of teen-aged girl a lot of teen-aged girls wish they could be.
Juno isn’t the kind of teen-ager other young actresses get to play on the big screen. You won’t find Juno in a Lindsey Lohan or Amanda Bynes movie. Think the confidence and self-assurance of Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You and the alterna-geekiness of Thora Birch in Ghost World, and you’d get a very rough idea of Juno.
Diablo Cody has inadvertently created a surprising role model for young girls, and Reitman found just the right Juno in Page. Film geeks will know her from David Slade’s Hard Candy. Mainstream movie-going audiences will know her as Kitty Pride/Shadowcat from Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. From this point on though, Juno will be the character she’ll be remembered for for the foreseeable future.

Now, when I say that Juno’s become a role model for the youth, I certainly don’t mean 16-year-olds who get to see Juno will suddenly want to get knocked up. I’m saying that in Juno, teen-aged girls can see that if they do end up in a hairy situation (like, though not limited to, pregnancy), that, given a certain level of maturity and a great support system, they can come out the other side of a potentially life-altering turn of events, their sanity and snark intact.

Admittedly though, Juno is, like the Lorings, not exactly picture perfect.
The first scene where we see Juno interact with someone (The Office’s Rainn Wilson) comes off as a tad clunky, with dialogue that feels slightly contrived. But thankfully, things smoothen out as we progress into the film.
Then there’s also the narrative’s approach to the pregnancy itself. There’s a brief flirtation with the reality of abortion, and a cursory reference to it during Juno’s conversation with her parents about her condition, then she’s decided on her course of action, and that’s it. The story’s pretty much locked in on that, and Juno never seems to acknowledge the possibility of how she’ll feel once the child is born, that there will be no succumbing to some inherent maternal instinct that will kick in once her water breaks.
Somehow, this scenario doesn’t quite play out the way the situation would probably unfold in real life. Given the perennially hot-button seriousness of what this film is about, the slightly fanciful approach to the subject matter may strike some as being inappropriate.
Granted, there are some bumps on this road, but by and large, the world Juno lives in seems a whole lot less messy than real life, and the character seems a whole lot more certain than all us normal folk.
Which is probably why she’s become such a role model. So I guess in the end that’s probably a good thing.
(And if it makes any sort of difference, I have less issues with Juno than I did with Little Miss Sunshine.)

Ultimately, Juno is one of those great little indies that has a prickly sense of humour, encased around a heart and soul that’s all warm and toasty.
It’s fun, it’s smart, and hey, it’s crashed the Oscar party.
Now if only the strike would end, so there will be a party for Juno to crash…*

* This review was written before February 12, when the WGA announced that they were ending the strike; see Afterthoughts (51).

Parting shot: Diablo Cody was honoured with the WGA Best Original Screenplay Award, coming out on top of a category that included Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, and Nancy Oliver’s Lars and the Real Girl.
Check out Afterthoughts (48) in the Archive for the other wins that made me go “Woot!”

Parting shot 2: Jason Reitman again teams-up with Diablo Cody (this time as producer) for the next movie to be made from a screenplay written by her. Jennifer’s Body (which found a spot for itself on the Black List 2007), has been described by Reitman as “what if Juno was possessed and started eating her classmates,” or something to that effect.
Last I heard, Transformers hottie Megan Gale was playing Jennifer.

(Juno OS courtesy of; Ellen Page EW cover courtesy of

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Season 4 Episode 1
“The Beginning of the End”
Written by Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse
Directed by Jack Bender


Thus does the Mystery Box that is Season 4 open, and even as we pick up from where we left off on the Island, we get a flash-forward with Hugo front and center, timeline, somewhen before the Season 3 finale flashforward.

While Jack and company at the radio tower are awaiting rescue, Hurley and the Beach Patrol meet Des as he rows ashore, only to learn that Naomi’s been a lying little b!tch and it isn’t Penny’s boat out there at all, and oh, by the way, Charlie’s dead.
That’s one of the episode’s great moving bits, as we see the news clearly hit Hurley, hard. And since Sayid votes against radioing Jack with that bit of news (suspecting that these new interlopers are keeping tabs on their transmissions), and besides, Hurley smacks the walkie talkie out of Sawyer’s hand and into the water, the Beach Patrol heads out to warn Jack (which is the episode’s fantastic boo-yah! moment as everybody starts arming themselves as they head on out into the jungle).

On the trek, there another nice bit as Sawyer clearly shows concern for how Hugo’s taking Charlie’s death. It’s nice to know the con man can be a person too…
But because Hurley lags behind the rest of the Beach Patrol, he ends up getting separated from them, and finds himself… right outside Jacob’s cabin!
And when he looks in one of the windows, he sees Jacob! There’s also someone else in the cabin, who scares Hurley, who then scampers off. But he somehow finds himself back outside the cabin again.
So he shuts his eyes, tells himself there’s nothing there.
And Locke finds him. (Now, I couldn’t tell if that other someone in the cabin was Locke. It could’ve been…)

Meanwhile, it turns out Naomi wasn’t dead after all, and she seems to have crawled away while no one was looking… (Wow. Dying girl on stealth mode…)
Danielle finds a trail of blood, but Kate finds another trail and suspects that Naomi made a fake trail to throw them off her scent. Jack however, doubts this whole “fake trail” scenario, and opts to follow the obvious blood trail, with Danielle and Ben in tow, sending Kate off with the others to head back to the beach.
They hug and they part.
It turns out though, that Kate was right, and she filched the NaomiPhone from Jack during the hug. Kate finds the bleeding Naomi in time for Naomi to fiddle around with the frequency of the NaomiPhone’s signal emitter (or some techy gobbledygook like that) so the Boat People can find them, then tells the dude on the other end to tell her sister she loves her, before she dies.
For real this time.

All the parties intersect in the jungle, near the 815 cockpit, and there’s another moving bit as Claire is clearly looking around for Charlie, and Des looks like he’s moving towards her, but Hurley says, “I’ll tell her.”
And he does…

Then, to balance out all the sniffly moving bits, Jack punches Locke, then points a gun to his head. Locke says “You won’t shoot me, Jack, any more that I would have shot you,” referring to Season 3’s finale.
But in what’s arguably one of the episode’s biggest shocks, Jack pulls the trigger. But the gun isn’t loaded…
So Jack starts wailing on Locke instead, but he’s pulled off Locke (who didn’t seem to be fighting back anyway).
Locke makes his pitch: I’m trying to keep everyone safe, and those Boat People are not who they say they are, and they’re bad. I’m going to the now abandoned Dharma barracks, which is defensible, and I’m going to come up with a plan. Anyone who wants to stay alive, come with me.
And the tribe splits.

With Locke: Hurley, Claire, Sawyer, Danielle, Alex, Karl, and Ben (who amusingly asks Jack’s permission to take his leave).
With Jack: Kate, Rose (who refuses to go anywhere with Locke), Bernard.
These are the people I’m certain of. I missed some of the others during the exchange, though I assume that Sun, Jin, Juliet, and Sayid, are with Jack’s group. (Not quite sure where Des ended up…)

After a brief interlude at the remains of the cockpit, where Jack and Kate recall all the way back to the Pilot, traveling here with Charlie, Jack hears a helicopter, and they see someone land in a parachute, and Parachute Guy takes off his helmet, and he’s Jeremy Davies!
And he asks Jack, “Are you Jack?”
Which is the episode’s cliffhanger.
But let’s go back to the future, shall we?

Hurley’s chased by the police after he tears out of a convenience store, having seen someone (or something) that spooked him. Just as he’s arrested, he’s shouting, “I’m one of the Oceanic Six!”
At the police station, he’s interrogated by Ana-Lucia’s former partner, but he goes looney when he sees someone swim up to the mirror and touch it, letting tons of water into the room. This is, of course, apparently all a hallucination, and Hurley is only too grateful when they send him back to the same loonybin he spent some time at before. (Sniff. I miss Libby.)

While there, a mysterious stranger who claims to be a lawyer for Oceanic (introducing himself as Matthew Abaddon, creepily played by The Wire‘s Lance Reddick) offers Hurley an “upgrade”: a better loonybin to recuperate in.
Well, that’s… thoughtful.
But Hurley smells something suspicious, and when he says, “Okay, we’re done,” Supposed Oceanic Lawyer Guy asks, “Are they still alive?”
Hurley freaks, and SOLG makes his escape.

Later on, one of the other residents warns Hurley to be careful, “‘cause someone’s watching you.” And when Hurley looks, it’s (and this is the episode’s other possible biggest shock) Charlie! (With a cool, short haircut!)
So Charlie claims he is dead, but he’s also right there, and slaps Hurley to make his point. (And the other loony did see Charlie, right? So Charlie wasn’t a Hurley hallucination. Of course, the other guy who saw Charlie was loony…)
Apparently, Charlie’s who Hurley saw at the convenience store, which made him hightail it out of there. Charlie says to Hugo, “They need you.”
But Hurley’s having none of that sort of talk, so he shuts his eyes and counts to five, and when he’s done, Charlie’s gone.

Later on still, Jack pays Hurley a visit. (Jack saw the car chase on TV at the top of the episode.)
It’s a great scene, as we see a whole lot’s changed since the Island, and Hurley apologizes for going off with Locke, and says he should have stayed with Jack. Jack says it’s okay and that’s all water under the bridge.
But even as Jack’s leaving, Hurley says “It wants us to come back,” or something to that effect, and at this point in time, Jack doesn’t want to hear it, and leaves…

Now, though the episode’s teaser (the car chase leading up to Hurley’s arrest) is arguably not as strong a season opener as either Season 2’s (the inside of the hatch) or Season 3’s (the Others witnessing the 815 crash), the episode itself is solid enough, giving us some teasing bits to gnaw on: so what’s the “Oceanic Six”? Did they claim to the public that only a half dozen survived the crash?
Why does Supposed Oceanic Lawyer Guy ask, “Are they alive?” Did some characters lose themselves on the Island? Did Jack, Hugo and the rest of the Oceanic Six cover up for those other people? (I’m also going to assume that Kate is one of the Six, as we see her off the Island in the Season 3 finale flashforward. Speaking of Kate though, I’m surprised that when she’s asked over the NaomiPhone who she is, she actually gives her real name…)
And speaking of names, with a name like Abaddon, how can you seriously trust Supposed Oceanic Lawyer Guy?

It also struck me that back in Season 3, Ben talked about needing to sacrifice something in order to join them, before telling Locke he had to kill his father to do so. And Ben killed his father as a sign that he was joining Richard’s crew.
Must one always kill the father? Again, with the Daddy issues…
Also (and this is something I brought up before), doesn’t it make a difference that Locke didn’t do the deed himself? That he got Sawyer to get his hands dirty?

Getting back to this episode though, I’m jazzed that Davies has already been introduced, as I do think he’s one of the better young actors out there who always brings something edgy and dangerously unstable to his performances.
And speaking of “dangerously unstable,” I also loved that bit where Hurley sees Jacob.
Does one have to be slightly mentally unbalanced to see Jacob? One must admit, both Ben and Locke can seem a tad loopy at times.
And there’s the Charlie “yes, I’m dead, but I’m also here” bit. Is that what the Island (and/or Jacob) can do? Does that explain why Christian appears in the final mobisode, on the Island, at the moment of the crash? Is Vincent slightly mentally unbalanced too, since he apparently saw Christian as well?
Where is that damned dog, by the way? Did anyone see him in this episode?

Parting shot: Speaking of Christian, didn’t John Terry’s name pop up during the opening credits? Wasn’t he at the tail end of the regular cast?
Since he didn’t show up in this episode (or did I blink and miss him?), does that mean we’ll be seeing more of Christian later on in Season 4? On the Island or off the Island? Dead or alive? Or like Charlie, “dead but here”?

Post-parting shot: During the usual lag time between when I get to watch something and get to write a review for it, and when I actually get to post the review, something happened.
It was brought to my attention (thanx, Mika!) that the guy in the chair in Jacob’s cabin was actually Christian. (There’s a screenshot up at wikipedia.)
So if that was Christian, my question at this point is: was that really Christian, or was that Jacob somehow using the form of Christian? And that question also goes for all the other dead people that have been seen by the living throughout Lost: Charlie, Yemi, Ben’s mum.


(Lost Season 4 ad courtesy of; image courtesy of

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


So the count last Tuesday night: 3,492 to 283, in favour of ending the strike during the ratification process.
It’s officially over and the writers can get back to work Wednesday. Some, in fact (like the writers for the upcoming Oscar night) were already in the thick of things late Tuesday night.
Now, as the two week ratification of the proposed three-year deal takes place (votes for that to be tallied on February 26), Hollywood gets back into the swing of things, which leads us rather neatly to…

Showrunner Carlton Cuse has already made the announcement that they’re aiming to come up with 5 post-strike episodes, so this season will end with 13 episodes.
Intending to wrap the season up at the same narrative point it was originally supposed to end at, there will be some storyline compression required. Hopefully, that won’t have an adverse effect on the story’s rhythm. And hopefully, writers, cast, and crew won’t run themselves ragged to get those episodes ready to keep the consecutive airing of Lost an on-going concern.
Cuse also indicated that the 3 AWOL episodes (since season 4 was meant to be comprised of 16 installments) will pop up somewhere down the road, so we’re still going to get the same number of Lost episodes we were meant to get, before the strike stepped on the brakes.
In an ABC press release, the network has also announced it’s picking up Lost for a fifth season, though I’m uncertain if that season kicks off this Fall, or will have a delayed start date, as per the current season.

In the same ABC press release, Pushing Daisies was also announced as having been picked up for a second season.
Thus, there will be no more episodes beyond the 9 pre-strike installments for the current season.

NBC’s Chuck is also expected to return in the Fall, so the first season topped off at 13 pre-strike episodes.

Meanwhile, Volume Two’s 11 episodes are pretty much Season 2.
Volume Three: “Villains” will presumably kick off Season 3 when Heroes returns in the Fall.
In preparation, Tim Kring is reportedly getting busy on a series Bible, an always indispensable tool for shows like Heroes.

So with the picket signs being put aside, I’ll be having irregular updates for any strike-affected projects that are on my radar (like the Justice League film) as reports and announcements are made.

Let’s all breathe a huge sigh of relief that it’s over, and that apparently, the writers got a deal they can call a triumph.
Admittedly, not the total victory they were first targetting (reality and animation writers—who have been likened to the sweatshop equivalents of the Hollywood writers world—are still not covered by the guild, one of the aims the WGA had hoped to achieve), but the strides forward in new media seem to be cause to cheer.

Now let’s all hope the upcoming SAG negotiations don’t run into any speed bumps…

(Images courtesy of [WGA strike is over]; [Lost]; [Pushing Daisies]; [Chuck]; and [Heroes].)


And while Sunday night meant the BAFTAs for British film geeks (see Afterthoughts (49) in the Archive), over in La-La Land, American film geeks looked to the Kodak Theatre, where the 6th Annual VES Awards took place.
This year, the Visual Effects Society favoured Michael Bay’s Transformers with four awards, including the big one, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture.
Beyond Transformers though, the win that really made me go “Woot!” was…

Battlestar Galactica: Razor:
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special (Mike Gibson, Gary Hutzel, Sean Jackson, Pierre Drolet)

But, just for the record…

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture (Scott Farrar, Shari Hanson, Russell Earl, Scott Benza)
Best Single Visual Effect of the Year [Desert Highway Sequence] (Scott Farrar, Shari Hanson, Shawn Kelly, Michael Jamieson)
Outstanding Models or Miniatures in a Motion Picture (Dave Fogler, Ron Woodall, Alex Jaeger, Brian Gernand)
Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture (Pat Tubach, Beth D’Amato, Todd Varizi, Mike Conte)

Additionally, the award for Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Broadcast Program or Commercial went to Nicklas Andersson, Mike Mellor, Sylvain Marc, and Florent DeLa Taille, for the Fatlip shots in Chemical Brothers – Salmon Dance.
Not exactly sure what that is, but hey, it’s the Chemical Brothers…

Steven Spielberg was also honoured with the VES Lifetime Achievement Award, for “the contribution that his vast body of work, as both a director and producer, has made to the art and science of visual effects.”

On the downside though, I’d just like to say it’s such a sad thing that not only did Zodiac get no love from the Oscars this year, but VES passed it over too.
Zodiac was up for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Motion Picture (for Washington and Cherry), but lost out to Ratatouille and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (for The Maelstrom) respectively.
It’s pissy since David Fincher’s use of visual effects in Zodiac is so seamless, it’s practically invisible. I guess VES gave him an invisible award too…
Don’t worry, Mr. Fincher, the Iguana luvs ya…

For a downloadable PDF of the complete nominee list, go here, and to see a complete list of the winners, go here.

Parting shot: Reviews of Razor, Transformers, and Zodiac can be found in the Archive.

(Battlestar Galactica: Razor DVD cover art courtesy of; Transformers OS courtesy of; and Zodiac OS courtesy of

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WHAT THE BAFTA?! 2008 (3)

Sunday night in London saw the BAFTAs handed out, and the wins that made me go “Woot!” were:

The Carl Foreman Award [for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in their First Feature Film] (Matt Greenhalgh, Writer)

The Golden Compass:
Special Visual Effects (Michael Fink/Bill Westenhofer/Ben Morris/Trevor Woods)

Original Screenplay (Diablo Cody)

No Country For Old Men:
Director (Joel Coen/Ethan Coen)
Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem)
Cinematography (Roger Deakins)

This Is England:
Best British Film (Mark Herbert/Shane Meadows)

Not surprisingly, The Orange Rising Star Award, voted for by the public, went to Shia LaBeouf.
Sorry, Shia, but I was kind’a rooting for Sam Riley. Ah, well…

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. You can check out the complete list here.

Parting shot: Reviews of Control, The Golden Compass, Juno, No Country For Old Men, and This Is England can be found in the Archive.

(OS’s and Control and This Is England UK quads [designs by All City] courtesy of


48.1 WGA 2008 (2)
Just a few minutes before the start of the crucial WGA meeting last Saturday night to discuss the details of the tentative agreement that could put an end to the three-month long strike, this year’s recipients for the WGA awards were announced, and I’d just like to congratulate Joel and Ethan Coen, for winning Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country For Old Men, and Diablo Cody, for winning Best Original Screenplay, for Juno.
You can check out the complete list of winners here.

Now let’s all hope for the best with the on-going WGA ratification of the current on-the-table deal…

No Country For Old Men was also honoured at this year’s Producers Guild Awards. It’s now received awards from all four major guilds, SAG, DGA, WGA, and PGA.

Meanwhile, over in London, where the BAFTAs were handed out Sunday night (check out Afterthoughts (49) in the Archive), Guillermo Del Toro’s El Laberinto Del Fauno was honoured with this year’s BBC Four World Cinema Award, emerging at the top of a shortlist that included Turkey’s Iklimler (Climates), Germany’s Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), Thailand’s Sang Sattawat (Syndromes and a Century), and the French-Italian co-production, La Science Des Reves (The Science of Sleep).

To all involved in both films, a hearty round of congratulations.

And on a BAFTA sidenote, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen took home the Film Not in the English Language Award last Sunday, as it did the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year.

Parting shot: Reviews of El Laberinto Del Fauno, Juno and No Country For Old Men can be found in the Archive.

(All OS’s and Pan’s Labyrinth UK quad [design by All City] courtesy of


Roy Scheider
November 10, 1932 – February 10, 2008

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I’ve read the first two installments of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (been looking for quite a while now, but have yet to find The Amber Spyglass in the bargain bins), and enjoyed both tremendously.
Pullman understands—as do the likes of directors Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro—that fantasy should also possess a certain sense of horror for it to be informed with substance, a darkness to give everything else (not the least of which, the light and the wisdom that accompanies it) a proper weight.
Obviously, I didn’t expect the film adaptation of The Golden Compass (originally titled Northern Lights) to be as substantial as the source material.
Sadly though, it feels like a child who’s suffered a botched intercision.

Now, on the plus side, let me just say that The Golden Compass looks fabulous, like Nicole Kidman the first time we see her in the film: the divinely sinister Mrs. Coulter, in that dress.
Like Coulter at the university banquet, the film that contains her is visually stunning, and has resulted in Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects. Here is a fantasy world that is amazingly realized, courtesy of a hefty budget (reportedly $180 million).
As much as I love Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust, The Golden Compass certainly looks a damn sight better. Compass, however, lacks not just the disarming charm of Stardust, it also lacks—as Mrs. Coulter apparently does—a certain sense of humanity.

For the most part, Compass feels like the ride Lyra (newcomer Dakota Blue Richards) takes atop warrior ice bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced by the brilliant Sir Ian McKellen). And though this sequence is one of the Compass bits that work, my comparison isn’t meant to be a flattering one.
In trying to fit all of the novel into the film’s 113-minute running time, director Chris Weitz (who also penned the script) treats us to a cavalcade of scenes that aren’t allowed to breathe, that aren’t given the time for the narrative (and the audience) to discover who these characters are and why they should warrant any attention or sympathy. The scenes only seem to take as long as is needed to get packets of information and heady concepts to the audience, before we’re whisked off to another locale and another handful of plot points.
Which is sad since Richards actually does a decent job at playing Lyra, the tale’s young heroine, and in a film like this, the young protagonist is always the key to fully enjoying and appreciating the material. If the child actor isn’t any good, chances are, the film falls apart.

In this case though, it’s the script that fails Richards, and most of the cast as well. 007 Daniel Craig is good as Lyra’s explorer uncle, Lord Asriel, as is Craig’s co-star in Casino Royale, Eva Green, as witch queen Serafina Pekkala (though Green does lack the gravity required for the film’s opening voice-over). Jim Carter also gamely gives his best shot at John Rhys-Davies, as Gyptian king, Lord John Faa.
But as good as these performers are, the truly exceptional ones are Sam Elliott as aeronaut Lee Scoresby, and the bears, Sir Ian, whose magnificently resonant vocal delivery captures the regal and fierce pride that informs Iorek, and Deadwood’s Ian McShane, who voices the bear king, Ragnar Sturlusson (renamed from Northern Lights’ Iofur Raknison so as to avoid confusion with Iorek).
Sadly though, there just isn’t enough Scoresby in The Golden Compass, and Ragnar has hardly been introduced to us, before he’s swept off the narrative’s board, and we’re off gallivanting towards the next plot point. Sir Ian at least, gets to unleash his inner ice bear, and it’s to Richard’s credit that she pulls off the scene where Lyra first meets Iorek rather admirably. Considering she was an inexperienced actress playing off a special effect made her performance all the more impressive.

When I first heard who The Golden Compass’ director was going to be, I couldn’t quite see why the choice was a proper fit. Yes, I loved Weitz’s screenplay for Antz, but the films Weitz actually had directing duties on were titles like the Hugh Grant-starrer About A Boy, the Chris Rock-starrer Down To Earth, and American Pie (though Weitz was uncredited for the last). Hardly the stuff of big budget fantasy films.
And if anything has been learned from some of the more recent cinematic entries in the genre, the director has to have a certain mindset where the special effects and the fantastic elements of the production are used as tools to enhance the narrative, the means to an end and not as the end itself.
Tragically (and despite the fact that Weitz first came on board as writer/director, then walked away from directing duties, only to return after Shopgirl director Anand Tucker came and went), Weitz seems to have gotten himself lost in both the story and the means by which the story is being told.

Even flawed as it is though, Weitz’s effort is possibly still one of the most substantive fantasy films yet, which is, of course, part of why it doesn’t work quite as well as it ought to.
The concepts are complex and weightier than your average wizards and warlocks fare, what, with souls externalized in the form of daemons, parallel worlds, and cosmic particles called “Dust,” the witches and ice bears seem like the terribly antiquated part of the equation.
Thus, much of The Golden Compass is exposition at the expense of character. And though Weitz has expressed a desire for an extended cut on DVD (which would have a running time of about two and a half hours), the theatrical cut sorely lacks a warmth it so desperately needs.
It also lacks that sense of horror I mentioned at the top of this review. There are just some scenes (particularly the reveal involving poor little Gyptian boy, Billy Costa, played by Charlie Rowe) that miss the mark, that fail to convey the inherent wrongness of the situation, given the norms of Lyra’s world.
And in a slightly similar vein, there is also a distinct lack of flourish in presenting us with the on-screen wonders we see. Yes, airships and the like are commonplace to that world, but they’re new to us (and to young Lyra as well, who is the audience’s proxy, after all), and yet most everything is treated as if it’s something we see everyday, as if it were as pedestrian as an apple in a dining table centerpiece.
Our first view of Scoresby’s ride is one such missed opportunity for a stirring money shot. And the climactic battle is frankly a disappointing sight as well.

Another shortcoming that bothers me is that Weitz never truly captures the deep ramifications of a life where one’s soul has a physical form outside of one’s own body. The intricate and intimate link between character and daemon doesn’t come across in any real and vital way. All we know for sure is that daemon and person feel the same thing, so if one dies, so does the other one (in the daemon’s case, in a burst of glittery CGI fairy dust).
Save for Lyra and Mrs. Coulter, we never quite get a proper sense of other characters’ daemons; if memory serves me right, Scoresby’s daemon Hester—voiced by Kathy Bates—actually only gets one line in the film, maybe two. Which seems like a terrible waste of Kathy Bates.
It’s also a terrible waste of the whole concept, when a person’s soul is reduced to a mere bunch of morphing pixels…

Clearly New Line’s shot at kick starting another fantasy franchise, by January 27, 2008, The Golden Compass had grossed a disappointing US total of just over $68 million. Its foreign box office though was a surprising $256 million, fully 78.8% of the film’s total cumulative box office of $325 million.
And though $325 million is a lot, so was that $180 million budget. Which puts a question mark over how New Line will approach the intended sequel, The Subtle Knife. Hossein Amini (who wrote the screenplays for Shekhar Kapur’s The Four Feathers and Iain Softley’s The Wings of the Dove) had already been tasked to adapt the novel even before Compass hit cinemas, but given that it didn’t perform as well as the studio had hoped, there’s a sense of hesitancy on New Line’s part now.
In light of the recent kiss-and-make up with Peter Jackson, giving a green light for two new Tolkien films (The Hobbit and a bridging film between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy), New Line may feel even less charitable towards producing the second and third installments of His Dark Materials. Or at the very least be reluctant to throw as much money at it as they did at Compass.
Tolkien, after all, is already an established brand name for the studio, certainly a more reliable cash cow than Pullman (and without all that religious controversy hoo-hah on its coattails).

Still, I do hope New Line pushes through with completing the trilogy, giving them two more opportunities to get the material right. If they could only make more of an effort to get to the emotions and themes that inform the narrative, instead of the surface events that comprise the narrative, they would go a long way to justifying—and ultimately humanizing—all that expensive CGI so proudly on display.
That’s what His Dark Materials needs: more of its daemon back.

Parting shot: Third Dodgiest Cinematic ‘Do for 2007 (after Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men and Sacha Baron Cohen in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, both of which have reviews in the Archive): Simon McBurney, whose Magisterium meany Fra Pavel has a mop that looks like the hideous collision between a Trump comb-over and a Third Reich ‘cut.
See, kids? Bad guy = bad hair.
Thus endeth the lesson.

(The Golden Compass OS and images courtesy of