Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oscar Predictions 2010

Going into this year's Academy Awards, it seems that there are sure bets in every category and that this could be one of the least surprising awards ceremonies in quite a while. But this being the Oscars and all, you just know there are going to be some surprises. While the acting categories seem all but locked up by their respective frontrunners at this point, the Best Picture race, ten nominees wide, really comes down to three: The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Inglourious Basterds. It's going to be a close race, and the Oscar telecast producers are probably glad that category is saved for last so everyone stays tuned in.

In years past, I've averaged about 18 out of 24 correct, and I have no reason to think this year will be any different, but you never know. So, for what it's worth, here are my predictions:

The smart money's on Hurt, but I think Inglourious is the dark horse here, and could possibly upset. I'd be very happy if it did. Hurt Locker is great, but overrated. It's sort of the Million Dollar Baby-type of Oscar winner.
3/3/10 update: Now I'm starting to feel the tides turning in Avatar's favor. There could very well be a rare split between Picture and Director this year. I'm sticking with Hurt for now, but am contemplating a last-minute switch to Avatar - stay tuned.
3/5/10 update: It's official - I'm switching to Avatar for Best Picture.

BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Bridges was robbed of a nomination for his role as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. This is payback. Not really, but it certainly doesn't hurt his cause that he's never won. Plus, he's really good in Crazy Heart.

BEST ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
I think this one would have been closer if The Blind Side hadn't eked out a Best Picture nomination - clearly somebody in the Academy liked that movie.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Nobody else even comes close. Waltz gave the performance of the year - it's his to lose.

This is a one-woman race, despite some great performances from fellow nominees Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga.

BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
No female director has ever one the big prize. Even if The Hurt Locker doesn't win Best Picture, Bigelow's razor-sharp direction will come out on top.

Quentin's finest script since Pulp Fiction, and that's saying something. Brilliant dialogue. If this doesn't win and Hurt Locker does, I'll be pissed.

This is Up in the Air's best shot at winning, and it probably will.

Up is only the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture after Beauty and the Beast. This is its consolation prize.

I haven't seen any of the nominees. The White Ribbon has a known and respected director, and fantastic cinematography, but seems to leave people a little cold. That's not the case with France's A Prophet, which just swept the Cesar awards, and is batting a 95% on rottentomatoes.

Bourne-like suspense coupled with powerful footage and an important message about animal rights should make this one tough to beat.

Hurt's quick cut, nerve-jangling build of suspense should win.

Gorgeous to look at, even if most of it was rendered by a computer

Pandora sure was pretty. Many people actually want to live there now.

Michael Giacchino's beautiful score has the upper hand due to that early music-only montage in the movie.

BEST SONG: "The Weary Kind", Crazy Heart
A good song featured prominently in the movie, and sung by surefire Oscar-winner Bridges.

District 9's effects were scrappier and impressive given the budget, but Avatar's were revolutionary.

Ornate period pieces usually win this category, so I'm sticking with tradition.

It's a shame that Trek only gets to win one Oscar tonight, but Eric Bana and his Romulan cohorts were the most showy of these makeup nominees.

Haven't seen it, but hear it's awesome, and people sound the most passionate about this one.

Another Wallace and Gromit short from director Nick Park, who's won before.
3/5/10 update: So, after reading a bit more about these nominees, it sounds like Logorama is pretty cool. I'm betting against tradition now, in the hopes that Wallace and Gromit are viewed as kind of "been there, done that."

Certainly sounds timely.
3/5/10 update: I've read up on this category a bit more, and it sounds like The Last Truck is timely but a little too sappy. I'm switching to Music by Prudence.

Toss-up between this and The Hurt Locker.

I'm splitting the baby on these sound categories in the hopes that I'll get at least one right.

There you have it. Let's check back and see how I do after the ceremony.

Projected Oscar totals:
The Hurt Locker: 3
Avatar: 5
Inglourious Basterds: 2
Up: 2
Crazy Heart: 2
Star Trek: 1
Up in the Air: 1
Precious: 1
The Young Victoria: 1
The Blind Side: 1
The Cove: 1
A Prophet: 1

- John

Cop Out (*1/2)

Cop Out. 110 mins. R. Directed by Kevin Smith. Written by Robb Cullen & Mark Cullen. Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Rashida Jones, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Kevin Pollak, Adam Brody, and Seann William Scott.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for buddy cop action pics. They don't even have to be good - as long as the casting is inspired, the quips are frequent, and the action is believable, I'll probably enjoy it. Heck, Bad Boys and The Last Boy Scout are two of my favorite movies. When I heard that Kevin Smith was taking on his first work-for-hire directing gig, and that it would be a comedic parody/homage of '80s action comedies - with Bruce Willis starring(!) no less - I was pumped. So, it saddens me to report that Cop Out (or its other title A Couple of Dicks) is a total lemon. Where to begin? Let's start with the screenwriters. They've crafted a story built around a missing baseball card. Yup, that's about all there is conflict-wise. Willis wants to get the card back so he can pay for his daughter's $50,000 wedding. Look, I know that this plot is purposely kept simple and unobtrusive to allow for more comedy, but that assumes that there's actually something, you know, funny. The dialogue here is beyond lame - Morgan and Willis talk endlessly around each other, never saying anything funny and seemingly forced to make dumb oral sex jokes every other minute. Next - the acting. Tracy Morgan is a funny guy in small doses, but he simply cannot act. And when he has to carry scenes on his own and play real emotions, Cop Out fails. Willis? He's just phoning it in and could care less. Last, the direction. Smith has never been a strong visual stylist - his gift lies in the written word, but even in a movie like this, which has only three action scenes, he has no idea how to stage them. The action sucks and the pacing is sloppy. C'mon! These are not hard movies to make! The only saving grace, and the reason I'm giving Cop Out an extra half-star is Seann William Scott. He steals every scene he's in and gives the movie a boost whenever he's on screen, which is not nearly enough. A huge disappointment.

- John

The Crazies (**1/2)

The Crazies. 101 mins. R. Directed by Breck Eisner. Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright. Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, and Danielle Panabaker.

The remake craze continues with this serviceable redo of zombie maestro George Romero's 1973 cult favorite, The Crazies. Boasting snappier pacing and better acting than the original, this new version directed by Sahara's Breck Eisner should satisfy the Friday night crowd, but doesn't make much of a lasting impression. Maybe that's because we've seen so many riffs on this same type of story in the three decades that have passed since Romero's movie was first released. Part viral outbreak thriller and part zombie horror, the 2010 Crazies follows a small-town sheriff in Iowa (Timothy Olyphant), his wife (Pitch Black's Radha Mitchell), and a few hangers-on as they try to escape the clutches of fellow citizens gone unexplainably berserk and the government that's trying to wipe them all out. The movie has a handful of boo! gotcha! scare scenes, nifty visuals, and a killer scene in a car wash (way better than the one in the last Final Destination flick), but the characters are dull and uninteresting. The infected are not portrayed all that inventively either - these crazies just come off like a sub-par 28 Days Later rip-off. In fact, you'd be better off watching (or re-watching) any of these other similar movies: 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, the '04 Dawn of the Dead. Remake aside, there's really nothing here you haven't seen before.

- John

Friday, February 26, 2010

Shutter Island (***)

Shutter Island. 138 mins. R. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Writen by Laeta Kaligridis. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, and Max Von Sydow.

The trailers for Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese's latest collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, suggest a scary and thrilling mindbender. That's not what you get though. Scorsese is working in Cape Fear mode, paying homage to Hitchcock and other great directors of the genre, but he seems to have ignored the simple (yet important) things like pacing, intensity, and, yes, actual thrills. Shutter Island should keep you mentally on edge and physically on the edge of your seat, but instead it settles for just being weird. It's not even unsettling or all that mysterious. Leo stars as Teddy Daniels, an FBI agent, ferried over to the mental hospitals of Shutter Island, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Teddy clearly has some problems of his own though, as indicated by flashes to his days as a soldier in World War II and the haunting images he has of his dead wife (Michelle Williams). As Teddy's investigation deepens, his mind unravels, and it all leads to one of those big twists in the end, this one a tad more satisfying than others. Scorsese is having a lot of fun with the concept - always playing visual tricks on the audience (i.e., now you see something, now you don't), but the audience is still always one step ahead of the movie. We know where it's going, because most of the tricks up it's sleeve are telegraphed in advance. The acting is solid. Leo is as dependable as ever, and easily carries the movie on his shoulders. The music is great - big and foreboding, like something out of Kubrick's The Shining. I left Shutter Island wanting to see it again (always a good sign), but it's no masterpiece. It's simply a pretty good film from a brilliant director who is capable of so much more.

- John

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MCHammerCast: Top 5 Pixar Films

This week on MCHammerCast: John and Matt are joined by special guest Jared Heck for a heated discussion on the Top 5 Pixar films. Join the fun by downloading/subscribing on iTunes or at

- John

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Valentine's Day (*)

Valentine's Day. 126 mins. PG-13. Directed by Garry Marshall. Written by Katherine Fugate. Starring Everyone.

In the past, I've generally been a big fan of the epic, all-star, multi-character rom-coms like Love, Actually and He's Just Not That Into You, but all the star wattage in the world can't save the DOA cashgrab that is Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day. All props to Marshall for his legendary career in television, and even for Pretty Woman (his only really decent movie), but he is one hack of a director. And if Valentine's Day doesn't make you want to puke all over the holiday that inspired it, well then, you are a stronger person than I. There's not one moment in the movie that doesn't feel forced or derivative or some combination of the two. All of the actors are in their chirpy likeable mode - there's no nuance or dimension to their characters and not one of them plays a believable human being. You know a movie like this is in trouble when Taylor Swift (Taylor Freakin' Swift!!) is the best thing about it. Look, I like Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway as much as the next guy, and I'm a fan of B. Coop and Topher Grace in these kinds of movies, but Valentine's Day tested my patience from about five minutes in and had me covering my eyes in embarrassment at the level to which many of these highly respected actors stooped for a quick and easy paycheck, with no risk or downside if the movie bombs. Word has it that Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate are lined up to make another all-star holiday rom-com centered around New Year's Eve. That's the bad news. On the plus side though, it can't be any worse than this fiasco. Avoid this one like the plague.

- John

Saturday, February 20, 2010

MCHammerCast: Episode 3

The latest episode of MCHammerCast is now available for download on iTunes. You can also get it at This week, Matt and I are joined by guests Joe Newbold and Jared Heck as we discuss Nos. 1-4 of Hammervision's Top 10 films of the decade. We've also started the new format for the podcast, where each week, we'll tackle a top 5 list in a certain genre. This week? Top 5 Sports Movies. Will your favorite be on the list(s)? Spoiler alert: if you love Hoosiers, Rudy, Rocky, The Natural, or, yes, even The Cutting Edge, you're in luck.

- John

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Wolfman (***1/2)

The Wolfman. 102 mins. R. Directed by Joe Johnston. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving.

I have to admit, I was not expecting much from this latest remake of the Universal horror classic. Forget about the horror on screen; from the sound of it, the real horror lay behind the scenes, in getting this production off the ground. From release delays, to director switches, to script rewrites, The Wolfman has been plagued by negativity and bad press for a while now, and how nice to finally see the finished product and find that director Joe Johnston and his collaborators actually pull it off. This Wolfman is no classic, but it's a bloody good time at the movies. Despite its period setting, the movie is anything but a stately drag. Benicio Del Toro (who also produced) stars as Lawrence Talbot, an American actor who returns home to attend the funeral of his brother, who's been killed by some mysterious creature. Soon, Lawrence himself is bit by the wolf, and he turns into the Wolfman whenever the moon is full. Emily Blunt is his love interest, Hugo Weaving is the dogged Scotland Yard inspector, and Anthony Hopkins is the father, who is a little too sympathetic to Lawrence's predicament. I have to credit the editors, including the great Walter Murch, who shaped this movie into a working whole, if only just barely. I'm also pleased to give Johnston a pat on the back. I'm a big fan of Johnston's The Rocketeer, and he's having a great time here, honoring the Universal horror classics and paying homage to them, while also shooting the wolf attacks with a rip-roaring, blood-spurting frenzy that is thoroughly modern. The Wolfman design by Rick Baker and transformation special effects are top notch. Those alone are worth the price of admission. And composer Danny Elfman keeps things aurally interesting and exciting throughout. The Wolfman may not be perfect, but it's fun and awfully cool at times, especially whenever the moon is full and the Wolfman is out and about doing his thing.

- John

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (**)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. 120 mins. PG. Directed by Chris Columbus. Written by Craig Titley. Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Steve Coogan, and Uma Thurman.

Percy Jackson wants to be the next Harry Potter so badly it must hurt. Not only is this a franchise wannabe based on a series of popular children's fantasy books, but it's also directed by Chris Columbus, who made the first two Potter flicks. On paper, this seems like a good enough property to inherit the Potter throne. The idea is solid: children of Greek Gods like Zeus and Poseidon getting mixed up in a battle amongst the Gods for control over the world, but all set in present-day America. There's the hero (Percy Jackson), his comic relief protector (a satyr played by Tropic Thunder's Brandon T. Jackson), and the spunky heroine love interest, all training for battle at a woodland summer camp, led by Pierce Brosnan's shaggy centaur, before taking a cross-country road trip to retrieve Zeus' stolen lightning bolt. The supporting cast is solid (Uma Thurman, Sean Bean, and more), the young stars are handsome and engaging, if a tad dull, and there's a lot of nifty fantastical elements (shoes with wings that make you fly? Cool!), but Percy Jackson is ultimately brought down by two things. First, the substandard special effects, which might have looked cutting edge in 1992, but are hopelessly outdated and clunky in the age of Avatar. Second, the story rips off Harry Potter a little too closely for my taste, and lacks any real surprise. The villain reveal is lame, and the main mystery (who stole Zeus' lightning bolt?) is a non-starter. Also, I've never read the books, but I hear the movie takes great liberties with the story and deviates quite a bit, so purists take note. Meanwhile, Mr. Potter can rest easy. Percy Jackson ain't got nothing on him.

- John

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

MCHammerCast: Episode 2

The latest episode of MCHammerCast is now available for download on iTunes. You can also get it at This week, Matt and I discuss Nos. 5-10 of Hammervision's Top 10 films of the decade, and also get sidetracked with discussions on the next Mission:Impossible and Superman movies, as well as the latest to hit theaters and DVD.

- John

Monday, February 08, 2010

From Paris with Love (**1/2)

From Paris with Love. 95 mins. R. Directed by Pierre Morel. Written by Adi Hasak. Starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Kasia Smutniak.

The first thing you notice about From Paris with Love, the latest action schlock-fest from the mind of Luc Besson, is the enormous amount of fun John Travolta is having on screen. He hasn't been this enjoyable in, what, a decade now? Not since the era of Get Shorty and Face/Off has Travolta so deliciously connected to a character. Here, he plays Charlie Wax, an obnoxious American spy, who's prone to saying "motherf**ker" a lot and eats (wink, wink) royales with cheese. As with any buddy action movie worth its salt, Wax is paired with a polar opposite - a pencil-pushing embassy stooge played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (butchering an American accent). The two are tracking some kind of Asian drug smuggling operation, and threat on an American ambassador's life, though little thought or coherence is given to connecting the dots. It doesn't matter really. The plot is thin and ridiculous, and if you spend even more than a second thinking about it, that's one second too many. Travolta, for his part, does everything he can to jazz the audience, and for a while he succeeds. Director Pierre Morel (of last year's Taken) is a kinetic action filmmaker and juices up the early proceedings with a healthy dose of gratuitous violence and comedy. The best scene in the movie comes when Rhys-Meyers is climbing a flight of stairs and keeps getting waylaid by falling bodies. Sooner or later though, the plot takes over and Travolta is relegated to the background. It's at that point when From Paris with Love starts to lose some of its guilty pleasure status, and just becomes a chore to sit through. Still, it's worth checking out on DVD for Travolta's performance and a handful of decent action sequences.
- John

Dear John (**)

Dear John. 108 mins. PG-13. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Written by Jamie Linden. Starring Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Scott Porter, Henry Thomas, and Richard Jenkins.

Dear John,

I guess congratulations are in order. After seven weeks atop the box office charts, you were the movie that finally took down Avatar. Years from now, that will be a fun fact remembered by people like me. Everyone else will have forgotten about you, even those teen girls that propelled you to the top in the first place. Maybe one day they'll throw their considerable box office influence behind a movie that's actually, you know, good. I know that you wanted to be like The Notebook (the one Nicholas Sparks adaptation that worked), but you have failed. Maybe you should have never been adapted in the first place. After all, the whole Nicholas Sparks thing - pre-destined lovers pulled away from each other after a week/summer/weekend of romantic bliss by death/alzheimers/military/spouses - has been exhausted. Even the talented likes of Amanda Seyfried and, god bless him, Richard Jenkins, couldn't save you from mediocrity. Oh John, I wanted you to really go for broke and realize your full weepie romantic potential, but, alas, your story never really took hold. Keeping the two lovers apart for at least half of the movie was not a good idea. Neither was having them read cheesy love letters to each other via voiceover while looking at the moon. Also, I know Channing Tatum is hot right now, but I'm not so sure he can act. I'd rather see him Step Up. Oh well. Maybe I should not have gone to see you in the first place. I'm clearly not your target audience. Then again, even your target audience (non-discerning high school gals spending a night out at the mall) probably won't get too much pleasure out of you. Enjoy your brief moment as the king of the box office. It will be short lived, and you'll be relegated to movie trivia footnote sooner than I can finish this letter.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

New Podcast!

Welcome to the '90s Mr. Banks! Hammervision (aka John) and his buddy Matt Campobasso have put their collective movie-loving minds together and created a podcast to discuss the latest and greatest in film, television, and pop culture. The name: MCHammerCast. Clever, right? Each episode will be available for download on iTunes, and if you subscribe, you'll automatically get a new episode in your iTunes each week. Check out Episode 1, where we discuss my Top 10 list for 2009, as well as the recent crop of Best Picture nominees. Download it now, and listen to it in the car, on your commute, while you work out, or whenever else it's convenient. Hope you enjoy!

MCHammerCast: Episode 1

- John

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Tooth Fairy (*)

The Tooth Fairy. 102 mins. PG. Directed by Michael Lembeck. Written by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Stephen Merchant, Billy Crystal, and Julie Andrews.

If puns like the one you see on its poster and the idea of The Rock wearing cheap-looking fairy wings makes you giggle, you're going to absolutely love The Tooth Fairy. For the rest of us, whom I suspect is just about everyone, you will want to flee from the theater. That is, of course, if you made the big mistake of going to see this crap in the first place. Me? I reluctantly took my son to see it, having already seen The Squeakquel and having zero desire to see Jackie Chan play a spy next door. And while my son probably could have stayed and watched it a little longer, I couldn't, so I whisked both of us out of the theater after about an hour, vowing never to return to a Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson family flick. Seriously, after The Game Plan and Escape to Witch Mountain, Mr. Johnson has now squandered all of the goodwill he built with the underrated The Rundown. The plot of The Tooth Fairy is idiotic - Johnson plays a petulant hockey player who, after telling a little girl that there is no tooth fairy, is summoned to fairy land, where he has to serve a two-week tour of duty as, you guessed it, a tooth fairy. There are a lot of talented performers here collecting an easy paycheck at the expense of respectability: Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal, Ashley Judd, Stephen Merchant, and Seth McFarlane, among others. Yikes - did they even read the script? In what world is this a good idea for a movie? If this concept is ever going to work - no real shot of that, by the way - there at least has to be a sense of wonder and magic permeating everything. There is nothing magical about The Tooth Fairy. It is a creatively bankrupt movie, presumably greenlit by a bunch of studio execs who have nothing but contempt for the family audience.

- John

Monday, February 01, 2010

Edge of Darkness (**)

Edge of Darkness. 121 mins. R. Directed by Martin Campbell. Written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. Starring Mel Gibson, Danny Houston, Ray Winstone, Jay O. Sanders, and Denis O'Hare.

It's been almost eight years since Mel Gibson headlined a movie, and though, personal controversies aside, he's a welcome presence on screen, and I'm glad to see him back, I'm less than "taken" with this revenge thriller. We've seen this story a million times before, and done much better. Based on a 1980's British miniseries of the same name, Edge of Darkness casts Gibson as a Boston cop out to avenge the brutal murder of his only daughter. His search for her killers reveals a vast corporate conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of federal government and blah blah blah. Like I said, there's nothing new here. All that would be forgivable though if the movie actually bothered to give us some thrills. What Gibson needed with this comeback vehicle of sorts is a fast-paced ride that satisfies its audience's bloodlust with a lot of expertly executed action scenes. In other words, he needed to do what Liam Neeson did in Taken. Instead, he's stuck in a plodding, poorly paced movie that's content just going through the paces with an occasional, startling bit of violence thrown in to jolt the audience out of its stupor. Much of the blame for that has to lie with director Martin Campbell, who's always been hit (Casino Royale) and miss (Vertical Limit). Despite Gibson's perfect casting and an intriguing performance by Ray Winstone as a shady gun-for-hire, Edge of Darkness commits the cardinal sin of any thriller: it's insufferably boring.

- John

Last Minute Oscar Nomination Predictions

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced they were expanding the Best Picture nominees to a field of ten, I rejoiced. Having made the colossal mistake of leaving The Dark Knight out of last year's Best Pic race, it seems the Academy realized the errors of their ways. It's a win-win for all: more love gets shown on more movies, with bigger box office receipts and telecast ratings sure to follow.

It's been an unusually long Oscar season, with all the other award shows pushing their ceremonies ahead of the nominations. As a result, prognosticators like yours truly have had plenty of time to winnow down the nominees and pick the ten likely recipients.

I'm only going to predict the Best Picture nominees for now. The acting and screenplay nominees seem pointless, since the winners are all but guaranteed to be: Jeff Bridges (actor), Sandra Bullock (actress), Christoph Waltz (supporting actor), Mo'Nique (supporting actress), Inglourious Basterds (original screenplay), and Up in the Air (adapted screenplay). The other categories are just as clear-cut: The Cove (documentary), Up (animated film), The White Ribbon (foreign language film), and Avatar for almost every technical category.

This seems like one of the rare years where Best Picture and Best Director diverge. With her recent win at the DGAs, Kathryn Bigelow is poised to become the first female to win Best Director. But will The Hurt Locker win Best Picture? My guess is no. Avatar will likely take that prize. There's still a lot of time between now and March 7 though. We'll see who has the momentum at that point. And when will the inevitable Avatar backlash begin? I think it already has...

But enough blabbering. Let's get to my predictions for the Best Picture nominees:

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air

An Education

District 9
A Serious Man

So, that's my pick for the 10 nominees. I'd love for Star Trek to get in there, and if it does, I will be ecstatic. Check back again closer to the actual awards ceremony for all my final predictions of the winners.

- John