FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #7

•February 21, 2008 • 11 Comments

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Halle Berry and I hail from the same area so there will be no questioning her enormous talents on my watch. Besides, she did just a fine job in Monster’s Ball. That scene where she walks out of the water in that orange bikini was classic. (I might be confusing my films here)

As an aside, did Billy Bob Thorton sell his soul? Someone needs to look into this. How else can you explain his marrying Angelia Jolie and then performing in Halle Berry’s first ever topless scene? In the history of Hollywood could you come up with a less likely man than Thorton to pull off such a feat? Without a doubt Berry and Jolie are two of the most beautiful women to grace the silver screen over the last thirty years and a dude named Billy Bob — and only Billy Bob — has been with both of them. What?

Since Mrs. Berry and I share a close geographical connection (probably the only connection of any sort we’ll ever share) I don’t want to leave you feeling lonely so let’s talk about a Hollywood figure to whom we’re both connected: Julie Taymor. What of Julie Taymor? How about the piece of crap that was Across The Universe. I hope you didn’t submit yourself to ATU. I mistaken did one autumn afternoon and by the time the final credits rolled I had watch a good thirty minutes of the film through my fingers, which were covering my eyes while simultaneously plugging my ears, a feat nearly as impressive as Thorton’s, but not quite.

Taymor has a history of thinking big — think one person can change the world? — and her Broadway revision of The Lion King was the most imaginative re-imagining of an already spectacularly imaginative work. Anyone who hates her Lion King does not have a soul (Billy Bob?). The Lion King was great. I also happened to be a fan of Titus. Anyone willing to take on one of the truly great pieces of crap Shakespeare ever wrote gets high marks in my book. High marks also go to her for getting Anthony Hopkins to eat people (Demme should have claimed copyright infringement).

With Across The Universe Taymor once again swung for the fences, but this time she threw her back out whiffing at the pitch. Or to put it in your terms: The bowler tossed a nasty wobbler and Taymor passively batted it to the Short-Mid Wicket before retiring for tea, which she promptly spilled all over her all-whites. I think ATU was my least favorite film of the year. I suggested to a friend that we go and upon leaving the theater I actually apologized to her.

I quickly want to recognize one of my favorite films of the year. There is no doubt that I am but one of many to sing its praises, but let’s give some love to Ratatoullie. When you combine talent with consistency Brad Bird might be the best mainstream filmmaker working in Hollywood today. The man can do no wrong.


Sehban Zaidi is a Chicago-based filmmaker.


FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #6

•February 18, 2008 • 4 Comments

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Thats a pretty chilling indictment of Wes Anderson’s work, Joel. And one I entirely agree with. He has made a career out of alluding to himself, thus the one occasion where he allowed satire (and dare I say wit) to creep into the Allusion it was markedly more successful than the other bollocks he’s put out. The AmEx commercial worked for all the reasons his more recent films don’t, and Jason Shwartzman was bearable in it. Which is no small feat on it’s own.

I watched Paris J’Taime last year and didn’t like it as much as I had truly wanted to, although the Cohen brother’s short was a nice bit of foreshadowing to the brilliance they were about to return to this year. I mention this because that disappointment was sort of the reason I stayed away from I’m Not There. It felt like a movie I should probably watch but for some reason I didn’t find myself at the box office. But with all the stellar reviews from mates I trust I’m going to have to watch it. And Cate Blanchett needs to redeem herself after the fiasco with the films with the hobbits. Vigo has come full circle with Eastern Promises, and I forgive him. I imagine I‘m Not There is Ms. Blanchett’s apology.

Speaking of his brother, the only opportunities I’ve had to hear his views outside of farcical Kevin Smith films was on Real Time with Bill Maher. And I was duly surprised by how thoughtful and informed he was. Not Edward Said, but a lot more than I would expect from someone who tolerated Jennifer Lopez for well longer than the sex would stay novel.

I don’t think there is any danger of Javier Bardem not winning for best supporting actor. His portrayal was measuredly epic, or epically measured or some such collection of words that have no business being lumped together but are needed to describe the immenseness of how brilliant he was when he said “call it”.

And while Hoffman and Wilkinson were class, I don’t think their performances were comparable to Bardem’s.

I don’t think there were ever such clear cut favorites in the best actor and best supporting actor categories. I will be gobsmacked if Day Lewis and Javier don’t win. Although you know they might call Halle Berry in and give her both awards to make up for shunning her magnificent turn in Catwoman. Good Christ how does that woman have an Oscar.


Sehban Zaidi is a Chicago-based filmmaker

FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #5

•February 18, 2008 • 2 Comments

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You make a great point about the difference between a good filmmaker and a great auteur. One can certainly seen the Apatow crew running that risk, especially since all the films are similar not only in tone and style but also in ensemble. Seth Rogan was everywhere last year and it’s clear he isn’t going anywhere soon. Same with Micheal Cera (although I hope the rumored Arrested Development movie comes to fruition).

Since you mentioned it, The Darjeerling Limited sucked. Wes Anderson needs to give it a rest. The best piece of work he’s done in seven years was an American Express commercial. And if I never again see a bearded, morose Bill Murry — we get it, Bill, you can act; now go back to being funny — or watch another slow motion montage set to an obscure song by some semipopular indie band from Austria — corduroy and bad haircuts doesn’t mean you’re that sort of un-hip hip that confuses all the people over 37 — then I won’t say my world will burn any less brightly. I think I could get by without those things.

Speaking of ensemble casts, did you see I’m Not There? The best female performance this year was Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan. She stole the movie and was strong enough that even the terrible final sequence with Richard Gere didn’t ruin the film. With her Oscar nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age she has a chance to sweep the female acting Oscars, which has never happened before. That would be quite a feat, but I don’t see it happening.

How’s this for a clunky transition: Amy Ryan, another female actor, is nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Gone Baby Gone, a move with 3.5 good-to-great performances that was on the whole awfully disappointing (and not just because I went to the Chicago premier and suffered through Ben Affleck not sucking in a way I thought he was going to suck during his post-film Q&A. Seriously, the dude seemed pretty nice and thoughtful, even if he rolled in late and with a posse of 15 people.) What was terrible about Gone Baby Gone, a movie that was received by critics far better than I ever thought possible? How about the ending. How about the hitch in the middle that made the film feel like a crooked tree branch. But seriously: How about the ending? When the lights came up I was slack-jawed in bewilderment that this was an adaptation of the same author who wrote Mystic River. Could the ending really be that bad? Answer: yes. Casey Affleck was solid and any movie that features cast members from The Wire is never going to go down as a total failure. But still...

Since we’ve touched on a few supporting actor/actress performances so far why not go all the way and list our two favorites? I’ve already handed the Supporting Actress award to Blanchett. For Supporting Actor I have to give it Javier Bardem. As much as I want to give the nod to Philip Seymour Hoffman for Charlie Wilson’s War, there is just nothing particularly memorable about what he did. Yes, he was funny and typically outstanding in his own PSH sort of way, but other than when he flips out in the office can you name me two other memorable scenes? (OK, one other scene. He was great in the office scene with Hanks when he delivers the bottle of scotch.) Bardem stays with you long after the credits roll. That’s a sign of something and in a year when there are a number of viable candidates I’m giving it to the guy I still think about (but not in that way).


Sehban Zaidi is a Chicago-based filmmaker 

FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #4

•February 17, 2008 • 1 Comment

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I’ve always been a bit averse to the term “thinking man’s action hero.” It implies a disconnect between the world of action and a film that is intellectually engaging. Indiana Jones, V, The Man Without a Name, any Steve McQueen character — there are numerous action heroes who appear in films that one doesn’t have to check their brain at the door. I’ve never heard the term “non pseudo drama protagonist,” and lord knows there have been enough films that demand the distinction to be made. Continue reading ‘FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #4’

QUICK HIT: Once (Carney, 2007)

•February 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Once is a wonderful, sweet film. The plot could fit on a postage stamp, but this is the film’s great virtue. Instead of mudding up the film with contrivances or a hurried romance — in the hands of a less assured director this is exactly what would have happened — Once allows its characters to breathe, allows the action to unfurl at its own pace, and from this emerges a deep well of emotion and honesty. For what it is Once is nearly perfect.

Rating: 77

QUICK HIT: The Prestige (Nolan, 2006)

•February 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The Prestige stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, two rival magicians in turn of the century London. Bale and Jackman do not disappoint. The Prestige does. It might seem odd to criticize a film about magic for relying on unexplained wonders that seemingly defy all physical laws, but that’s exactly what ruined the film. The entire film is organized like a magic trick (though the plot is unnecessarily complicated — must every film use flashback, starting with the end and then jumping around for two hours?). As we learn, magic tricks unfold in three parts, the last part being called the prestige. The prestige is supposed to restore order — the sawed in half woman is made whole; the magician stands atop the chains that once held him down — but the ending in The Prestige does no such thing. Order is not restored. More than that, the ending undermines whole swaths of the film and how we experience it. Suddenly we discover that the deck has been stacked against us. It’s a cheap, unsatisfying thrill. Which is a shame because Bale and Jackman are quite good.

Rating: 47

FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #3

•February 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

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Let’s not get started about the travesty of Crash or any of the other tragedies in Academy Award history. If we do we’ll be here forever. I’m sure we’ll have more than enough gripes about this year’s crop of nominees and winners. There’s only so much negativity one can take, you know? Continue reading ‘FILM FORUM: Oscars Edition #3’