Film Review by Emma Champion: Battle: Los Angeles (2011), starring Aaron Eckhart


Battle Los Angeles

There is always cause for caution when it comes to Aaron Eckhart.  Still most definitely not forgiven for the implausible cheese-fest that was The Core (2003), he really has made some hit-and-miss career decisions.  From his stellar performances in films like Erin Brockovich (2000), Thank You for Not Smoking (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), to Rotten Tomatoes fodder Paycheck (2003), Love Happens (2009) and the terrible re-make of The Wicker Man (2006), one can never be sure as to whether one of his movies will deliver or disappoint.

Enter Battle: Los Angeles (2011), the story of an alien invasion told from the perspective of Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who has just requested to be expired from the military, but is called in for one last mission.  As it turns out, the mission entails fighting alien invaders who have mobilised a ground force hell-bent on eradicating the LA population.  There are “surprises” along the way – the discovery of a civilian family cowering in an abandoned police station, the leader who can’t hack it, the virgin rookie, the groom-to-be eager to return to his fiancé – you get the gist.

This film is like a sci-fi epic which is rebelling and, instead, trying to be an episode of Band of Brothers (2001).  Sadly, it does neither any justice.  Director Jonathan Liebesman’s insistence on the overuse of “shaky-cam” for even the quiet moments of supposed stillness borders on the ridiculous.  The introduction of new characters and terrific casting choices is dramatically played-down, making it feel as though their presence is wasted.  For example, one member of the civilian family who are taken along for the ride (literally, the soldiers hotwire a bus to get across the city) is played by Bridget Moynahan (i-Robot (2004), The Recruit (2003)); a soldier who joins them from a fallen platoon is played by Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar (2009), Girlfight (2000)) – and it doesn’t even matter.  Their characters are not introduced with any sense of importance – suddenly they’re just…there.  Unknowns could have been hired to play these roles and it would not have adjusted the film in any real way, and would have saved the production a hell of a lot of money, I’d imagine.

The additional frustration here is that whenever the audience is able to catch a glimpse of the offending aliens, it is always through the filter of either grainy news footage or battle dust which has yet to settle; or, the hand-held cam goes epileptic and your eye is prevented from settling on the image.  Come on, Jonathan Liebesman – you’ve spent a s***load on special effects to bring your audience first-rate aliens, and you refuse to allow us to see them!  You’re mugging YOURSELF, Mate – as Mike Skinner might say.

Overall, this is no more than your painfully-average military tale.  The script is hammy at the best of times, and all the promises that the stunning trailer made remain un-kept.  This could have been something really spectacular; instead, think Independence Day (1996) shot documentary-style and you’ve pretty much sussed this movie (even to the point where this single platoon figure out how to immobilise the control ship and then this information is passed to every major city where invasions are taking place – come on!  Enter Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum smoking cigars and you’ve got the same film!  Except that Independence Day comes off as the superior cinematic work in this instance, which is really saying something).

This is a waste of your admittance ticket fee.  Take the money you would have spent on seeing this film, go to your local HMV, and dig Independence Day out of the bargain bin.  THAT is how a cheesy, alien invasion movie is done – not this sombre, serious, half-baked affair.

Star Rating: **


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Emma Champion’s Annual Oscar® Report 2011


Emma Champion here – your first and ONLY correspondent on all things Oscar®; and well, Folks, I’m not sure how it happened, but it’s THAT time AGAIN!  This will be my 13th Oscar® All-Nighter, and, as always, it is an absolute pleasure and delight.

Open the wine, get the popcorn a-poppin’, sit back, and absorb the buzz in Tinsel Town as the 83rd Academy Awards Ceremony gets under way!

I’ll be up all night, working hard to bring you, not just the results, but all the magic in-between; details that so many other websites, news networks and celebrity publications often fail to disclose after the fact.  You’ll find it all here FIRST.  To one and all: a very happy Oscar® night!

23.00 – 01.30

E! Channel and Sky Movies Premiere coverage of the red carpet reveals a plethora of interesting titbits: Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone, in a Pamela Anderson-circa-Baywatch, Red, figure-hugging dress; Armie Hammer of The Social Network rocking the night’s first dickie-bow and talking about having begun filming on J. Edgar (eta 2012) with Leonardo DiCaprio; Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit in a beautiful rose-pink gown which, she reveals, that she helped design; Mila Kunis of Black Swan in a revealing,  lilac gown, speaking about how co-star, Natalie Portman, helped her to get the role along side her in the movie; Mandy Moore, vocal star of Walt Disney’s Tangled, looking effortlessly beautiful in a stunning, gold gown, excited to perform the Oscar-nominated song I See the Light; Russell Brand with his Mum, Babs, kissing presenter Ryan Seacrest on the cheek; Michelle Williams controversially repeating her much-criticised, signature look of short-sleeves and high, t-shirt neckline; Amy Adams in a glittering, navy-blue dress; host Anne Hathaway in a classic red gown; Tangled’s voice star Zachary Levi looking VERY handsome in his bow tie and speaking of his imminent duet with Mandy Moore; Jennifer Hudson’s plunging, “Tangerine-Orange” neckline; Geoffrey Rush sporting an extremely close-shaven head; Cate Blanchett wearing a VERY unusual-looking, almost plastic dress – much like something a young girl might click on to her Polly Pocket doll; Kevin Spacey offering advice to all Oscar® hopefuls: “…find the bar as fast as you can…”; Kelly Osborne applauding Scarlet Johanssen for “pushing boundaries” with her see-through, sheer-lace, burgundy gown; Ryan Seacrest reveals a rumour that there will be a “Twilight Musical Moment” in tonight’s ceremony; Justin Timberlake, who played Napster founder Sean Parker in The Social Network,  speaking about the mixed feelings he originally had about the notorious music website, having previously been in what he calls “a little group” – referring to his N-Sync days; Helena Bonham-Carter dressed uncharacteristically conservative in formal black; Steven Spielberg and his 14-year-old daughter who looks beautiful beyond her years; Dame Helen Mirren looking BREATHTAKING in charcoal grey and sporting a shorter, sassier haircut; an ageless Sandra Bullock in a backless, deep-red gown; Christian Bale showing off a big, bushy beard; Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem looking very much in love; Gwyneth Paltrow alone on the red carpet AGAIN – how could Chris Martin let his gorgeous wife go out alone, dressed in gold Calvin Klein, and when she’s due to PERFORM IN THE SHOW, no less??; Robert Downey Jr. chooses to wear a white tie with a black jacket – odd; Natalie Portman looking VERY pregnant and VERY fabulous in a gorgeous shade of deep purple; a seemingly bewildered host James Franco speaking candidly backstage before the show.

01.30 –  02.30

I am entirely thankful at the notable absence of Claudia Winkleman on Sky Movies Premiere this year.  Instead we have The Sun’s film critic, Alex Zane, whose Making of Avatar show I enjoyed so much last year.

The crowd are assembled, and we’re about to embark on an evening of magic…

The show opens with a comedy sketch, featuring hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway splicing themselves into some of the Best Picture nominees Billy Crystal-style with comedic effect, featuring a voice-over from Morgan Freeman who claims he was chosen for his “soothing voice”, and a cameo from Alec Baldwin.

James Franco: “Anne, you look so beautiful and so hip.”

Anne Hathaway: “Thank you, James – you look appealing to a younger demographic as well…”

The first award host of the evening is Tom Hanks, who notes the achievements of 1939, Best Picture winner, Gone with the Wind.  And a brief nod to James Cameron’s Titanic brings a nostalgic tear to my eye, featured as it won the same award over ten years ago, and was the winner at my first Oscar All-Nighter.


Best Art Direction:

Prediction:  Inception

Winner:  Alice in Wonderland


Achievement in Cinematography:

Prediction:  Inception

Winner:  Inception


Kirk Douglas presents the next award – he receives a standing ovation.  He says to Anne Hathaway: “Where were you when I was making pictures?”  He stalls before reading the winner, much to the amusement of the audience.


Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Prediction:  Helena Bonham-Carter

Winner:  Melissa Leo, The Fighter


Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake (romantically linked in the celebrity tabloids) present the next award.  Timberlake claims: “I’m Banksy.  God, that feels good!”  He then goes on to send up Kirk Douglas’ stalling techniques from just moments before, getting a laugh from the crowd.


Best Animated Short:

Prediction:  Night and Day

Winner:  The Lost Thing


Best Animated Feature:

Prediction:  Toy Story 3

Winner:  Toy Story 3


Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem present next, dressed in white suit jackets and ties.


Best Adapted Screenplay:

Prediction:  The Social Network

Winner:  Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Original Screenplay:

Prediction:  The King’s Speech

Winner:  David Seidler, The King’s Speech

Seidler: “My father said I would be a late bloomer…”  Great speech, dedicated to stutterers everywhere: “We have a voice; we have been heard…”

Anne Hathaway introduces a musical number – an original version of On My Own from Les Misérables, in which she refers to Hugh Jackman as “Hugh Jackass”, as he apparently refused to duet with her.  James Franco enters dressed as Marilyn Monroe.  He says, “The weird part is, I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen…”

Helen Mirren and Russell Brand present next – she speaks in French, and he translates.  “What Helen said was, “Yo!  My performance as a Queen was much more realistic as Colin Firth as a king!””

We make out the word “idiot” in what Mirren says next.

Brand says:  “I’m very flattered Helen, but I am, of course, married now…”

Best Foreign Language Film:

Prediction:  Biutiful

Winner:  In a Better World

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Prediction:  Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Winner:  Christian Bale, The Fighter

Great speech from Bale – “I won’t drop the “F” bomb…I’ve done that plenty in the past…”

02.30 – 03.30

The president of the Oscar® Ceremony and the President of ABC, who broadcasts the show in the US, take to the stage, and announce they have just renewed their marriage vows.  Aww.

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, former co-stars of the movie Australia, present next.

Best Original Score:

Prediction:  The Social Network

Winner:  The Social Network


Scarlet Johanssen and Matthew McConaughey take to the Kodak stage.

Best Sound Mixing:

Prediction: Inception

Winner:  Inception

Best Sound Editing:

Prediction:  Inception

Winner:  Inception


Marissa Tomei presents the next award, as the presenter of the Scientific  Academy Awards which are held before the actual Oscars.  We learn that the team behind Avatar win some recognition at last.

Cate Blanchett presents next.  She comments, “Gross” upon seeing a clip of The Wolfman’s make up, which gets a laugh from the crowd.

Best Achievement in Make Up:

Prediction: Barney’s Version

Winner:  The Wolfman

Best Achievement in Costume Design:

Prediction:  Alice in Wonderland

Winner:  Alice in Wonderland

A clip honouring movie songs features Barack ObamaKevin Spacey introduces, singing a song and then announcing, “Hello, I’m George Clooney…”

Randy Newman performs “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3.

With Disney score writing legend, Alan Menken, on piano, Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi perform “I See the Light” from Tangled.

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhall introduce the next award, their arms linked.  They honour short films.

Best Documentary Short Subject:

Prediction:  Strangers No More

Winner:  Strangers No More


Best Live Action Short:

Prediction:  The Confession

Winner:  God of Love

The afore-mentioned Twilight musical tribute is a music video montage of various film clips from throughout the year made into pop tunes.

Oprah Winfrey takes to the stage.  She looks bootylicious!

Best Documentary Feature:

Prediction: Exit through the Gift Shop

Winner:  Inside Job


Billy Crystal!!!! He gets a standing ovation, to which he says, “Where was I?”  They laugh.  Oh, Billy, how I’ve missed you.

A hologram projection of Bob Hope presenting the Oscars® is highly effective and very moving.  He cleverly introduces Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.  They make a great double act.


Law:  “If not for them (the audience) your closest association with a superhero would have been the time when you were busted in a cheap hotel with a woman dressed as Batgirl.”

Downey Jr.: “First of all, that cheap hotel was $1200 per night; and the woman was dressed as Wonder Woman; and it’s that attention to detail which earned the following nominees a place in the ranking…here are the nominees for Best Achievement in Visual Effects…”

03.30 – 04.45

Best Achievement in Visual Effects:

Prediction: Inception

Winner: Inception


Best Achievement in Film Editing:

Prediction: Inception

Winner:  The Social Network


Jennifer Hudson presents the next two contenders for Best Original Song.

Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine performs “If I Rise” from 127 Hours.  She has changed since her walk down the red carpet, into a brilliant orange gown.

Gwyneth Paltrow performs “Coming Home” from Country Song.  She is fantastic – a music star in the making, and fresh from her star turn with Cee Lo Green at this year’s Grammys.

Best Original Song:

Prediction:  “I See the Light” from Tangled

Winner:  “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3

Celine Dion sings Michael Jackson’s “Smile” over this year’s obituaries; the saddest of which has to be the late Pete Postlethwaite.

Halle Berry honours Lena Horne, who also passed away this year.

Hilary Swank takes the stage to present the first female winner of Best Director, from last year’s show, Katherine Bigalow.

Best Achievement in Directing:

Prediction:  David Fincher, The Social Network

Winner:  Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech


Annette Benning comes on stage to tell us about the Governor’s Awards, which honoured Francis Ford Coppola, and looked fantastic.  They were, sadly, not televised.

Jeff Bridges, AKA The Dude, takes to the stage to introduce the next award.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Prediction:  Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Winner:  Natalie Portman, Black Swan


Sandra Bullock introduces the nominees for the next award.  She addresses Jeff Bridges as “Dude”.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Prediction:  Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Winner:  Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Firth graciously accepts his award, beginning his speech with, “I have a feeling my career just peaked…”

Steven Spielberg takes the stage to announce the winner of Best Picture.

The nominees are shown in a montage of clips to Colin Firth’s speech from The King’s Speech.

Best Picture:

Prediction:  The Social Network

Winner:  The King’s Speech


A children’s choir from Staten Island, New York, sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to finish.  All of the night’s winners take the stage in a final curtain call.  Utterly uplifting.

So there you have it for another year.  How criminally quickly it flies by.  Until next year, I urge each and every one of you to follow your dreams, be true to your bliss, and believe – because dreams really do come true.

Happy Oscar® 83!

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Film Review by Emma Champion: Tangled (2011) – Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (voices)

Executive Producer of Tangled (2011), Glen Keane, could possibly be regarded as The Walt Disney Company’s secret weapon.  This is the animator who gave Ariel her flaming red hair; put the swoosh in the cape of the Beast; and created for Pocahontas her expression of longing as John Smith sailed away.  It seems like something of a natural progression, then, that Keane should be at the helm of Disney’s 50th, full-length, along with directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, and fellow Executive Producer, Pixar CEO, John Lasseter.

Tangled is a re-telling of the classic Brothers Grimm tale about a young maiden with unusually long tresses.  Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is kept in a tower by the twisted Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), banished from setting foot outside.  Little does Rapunzel know that she was stolen away from the King and Queen when she was a baby, when it became clear that the child’s hair held magical qualities which could maintain Gothel’s youthful appearance.  Now, the lost princess, her hair inconveniently long and oblivious of her true identity, is eighteen years of age and wants to know more of the world.  Intrigued by the “floating lights” which appear over the far hillside which she can see from her window every year on her birthday, she makes a vow to one day learn what they are.  So, when hapless adventurer and opportunist thief Flynn (Zachary Levi) stumbles in through her tower window one morning, Rapunzel sees her opportunity, and recruits him as her guide to where the lights come from in exchange for his stolen goods – which she has hidden from him. Needless to say, this being Disney, they strike up a friendship which blossoms into romance.  But the path of true love never did run smooth, and with Gothel on their tails, not-to-mention Flynn’s disgruntled business associates and Maximus, a horse of the Royal Guard who has Flynn’s scent and will never give up on his retrieval, the road ahead looks pretty bumpy…

This is a classic piece of Disney filmmaking with a modern spin.  Whilst upholding many of the traditions we have come to recognise in Disney animation – a princess, musical numbers, a score by Alan Menken, a companion creature (Ariel had Flounder; Rapunzel has Pascal the Chameleon) – it also approaches the material with full knowledge of the conventions the audience expects and then makes postmodern reference to itself, which then turns that expectation on its head.  For example, when Rapunzel asks Flynn where he is from, he replies, “Oh, no, no, no, I don’t do back story…”

The darker content is deftly handled, with frying pans becoming the weapon of choice (“Who knew?” cries Flynn at the height of one particular fight scene), and the strained relationship between Gothel and Rapunzel depicted as humorous in one breath, and disturbing in the next.  In an astonishing leap forward, Flynn becomes only the second Disney character to my recollection to be shown bleeding (the first being Beast when Gaston stabs him in the torso just prior to the finale of Beauty and the Beast).  First, his hand is wounded, and Rapunzel uses her magic hair to heal him.  Later in the film Gothel stabs him with a scarily-long, sharp dagger; Rapunzel lifts Flynn’s tunic to reveal the blood soaking liberally into his garments.  This is a telling statement concerning the resilience of child audiences in modern cinema; with the introduction of the 12A certificate back in 2002, young moviegoers have been exposed to cinematic material of a more adult nature over a period of time, so much so that a Disney character can bleed and they think nothing of it.  Think about it – even Mufasa of The Lion King (1994), trampled to death in a wildebeest stampede, managed to die on screen without shedding so much as a drop of blood.  Disney are taking more risks, but it is a testament to their ability to move with the times and gauge their audiences.

Speaking of audience awareness, some slurs of modern language can be seen creeping in here and there, with a line in one of the songs having Rapunzel sing the words, “…in, like, EVER!”.  This addition of the word “like” is common amongst American teens, and its presence here could be seen a by-product of popular, Disney teen franchises such as High School Musical and Hannah Montana.  This would be my only negative criticism of the film – declaring this as the 50th of Disney’s prestige animated movies, you would expect more adherence to tradition and a respect for the era in which the story is supposed to occur; you don’t want a medieval princess talking like your average, modern-day high-school student, like, “hanging at her locker”, or whatever.  Man.

Comedy  is certainly not in short supply – Tangled’s quick-humoured visuals fuel the scope for laughs – the film is laced with whip-glances and ultra-sudden changes of facial expression – all of which inspire a giggle or two here and there.  The animosity between Maximus the horse and Flynn is reminiscent of two squabbling siblings, and is always entertaining.  Action can be found here too, particularly in a scene depicting the collapse of a dam – possibly the best animated sequence featuring a substantial body of water since the parting of the red sea in Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt (1998).  However, the scenes which stand out are those little moments of truth that cut to the quick in terms of being relatable.  Watch out for the moment when Mother Gothel convinces Rapunzel that Flynn has left her and treated her badly.  Rapunzel runs into Gothel’s arms; Gothel’s spin on the situation seems plausible.  Every girl can relate to seeking comfort from their mother when a boyfriend lets them down.  Also, the scenes in which Rapunzel begins to guess at her true heritage are truly touching.

Tangled is a well-rounded movie which entertains, moves and inspires.  Easily their funniest modern comedy since The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), this film has the capability of inspiring belly-laughs and tears simultaneously.  The flavour of the Walt Disney Classic has been captured here for the modern film audience, and Tangled has the power to usher in an entirely new generation of Disneyphiles who perhaps are too young yet to have enjoyed Disney’s body of animated work.  What a treat they are in for.

Not as adept as Toy Story 3 (2010) or as hauntingly beautiful as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Tangled still manages to earn its rightful position as the 50th animated classic in the studio’s history, with stunning scenery lovable characters and memorable songs.  Overall, an absolute joy to watch.

Star Rating: ****

(image sourced at:

Film Review by Emma Champion: The Social Network (2010), starring Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield

The Social Network

In David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) declared to his pre-9/11 Project Mayhem delegates that their generation had “no great war; no great depression.  Our great war is a spiritual war.  Our great depression…is our lives.”  With that sentence, an entire age band were marked and identified as a group lost and expendable in human history; restless and longing for purpose as well as recognition.

Happily, eleven years on, Generation X is clawing back a little bit of credibility thanks largely to developments in technology and the growth of the World Wide Web; and, once again, David Fincher wishes to draw our attention to it.

The Social Network (2010) sees young entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), embroiled in two major lawsuits.  One with a former investor in Zuckerberg’s business who happens to be his ex-best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) – looking to protect his investment after an attempt to freeze him out; and another with brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (astonishingly, both played by Arnie Hammer without arousing any suspicion of special effects tinkery), and their associate, Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who claim that Zuckerberg’s online venture was based on their ideas which he stole from them.  The film takes us back on the timeline, showing the conception of the project and the events which brought it into play.

Oh – and did I mention that Zuckerberg’s business just happens to be Facebook – the most successful and lucrative social networking site ever created?  No?  Well, erm, it’s Facebook.  And it’s worth billions of dollars.  Facebook is now live and accessible all over the world – its revenue generated by advertising – and boasts over five hundred million users.

At age twenty-six, Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world today.  At one point, Laura (Aria Noelle Curzon), relatively new to the law firm dealing with Zuckerberg’s case and sitting in on the interviews, advises Zuckerberg to “pay them (the plaintiffs) – in the grand scheme of things, it’s a parking ticket.”  We are later told that the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra received a settlement of sixty-five million dollars.  If that amount to Mark Zuckerberg is what a parking fine would be to us, it is safe to say the man is, shall we say, financially secure.  It is also Laura who, upon discussing the global reach of Facebook, observes to Zuckerberg, “Bosnia.  They don’t have roads, but they have Facebook.”  It exemplifies both the absurdity and the necessity for which the internet has become renowned in the modern world.

What unfolds before the audience is a sharp, smart and inspiring piece of cinema.  With a script as sharp as an upturned drawing pin from West Wing creator, Aaron Sorkin (famed for penning the screenplays for such films as Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) and A Few Good Men (1992)), The Social Network grabs your attention from the get-go and refuses to relent.  It is dialogue-heavy, but the weight of the words never feels like a burden on the back, so to speak.  Sorkin sprinkles shiny vocabulary over his audience like vermicelli atop a freshly-made trifle, as apposed to making them feel as though they are trudging through mud; so don’t let the amount of talking put you off.

Leading man Eisenberg’s understated and controlled portrayal of Zuckerberg is impressive indeed, and leaves the viewer wondering whether the real Zuckerberg has the same rapier-sharp astuteness in real life.  There is an attention-grabbing turn here from Brit actor, Andrew Garfield as Saverin; his American accent is flawless and the camera clearly loves him.  It is heart-warming to know that his fantastic performance as Jack Burridge in John Crowley’s Boy A (2007) did not go unnoticed by Hollywood.  It is also nice to see Joseph Mazzello, seen here as  Facebook programmer, Dustin Moskovitz – you may remember him as the impressionable little boy who gets thrown from an electric fence in a key scene from Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993).  The real surprise here, however, is an outstanding Justin Timberlake as Napster founder, Sean Parker – Zuckerberg’s idol and eventual co-owner of Facebook.  He seems to relish the opportunity to play a character so vocal in his opinions and loquacious about his experiences.  At one point, Saverin verbalises his doubts about Parker’s reliability as a potential business partner, adding that he has read some unflattering material on Parker in the press.  Parker retaliates, saying, “Do you know what I’ve read about you?”  He then mouths the word “nothing” with a smug grin on his face, putting Saverin in his place as an as-yet unknown name in the business world.

Fincher has done an excellent job with his source material – namely the book entitled The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich – on which the film is based.  He draws us into the world of university nicely – beginning with drinks in a pub aptly-named The Thirsty Scholar, and followed by a tour of the grounds at Harvard throughout the title sequence.  It was Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail (1998) who said “Don’t you love…the fall?  It makes me want to buy school supplies.” The Autumnal setting of The Social Network does just that – the sight of a university campus with landscape which sports trees shedding yellow leaves and students walking on rain-soaked pavements to their prospective classes with their backpacks on their shoulders will have you waxing nostalgic about your own student experience.  Also, take note of a beautifully-shot rowing scene; blurred backgrounds and foregrounds cause the boats to appear miniature, reminiscent of a model village.  This creates an almost Brechtian distance between the action and the audience, and is the only time the intensity of the dialogue is lifted for a brief, yet surreal, moment.  Also, this deliberate, visual shrinkage serves to undermine the Winklevoss’s sporting achievements in comparison to Zuckerberg’s digital endeavours, which may just have been the director’s intent.

If there is anything negative to say about this film, it would only be to say that it is, from time-to-time, saturated in American college politics – talk of Final Groups and Fraternities may be lost on UK audiences.  However, it does little to tarnish a film which illustrates how much power young people have in this digital age, and how much possibility lay before graduates like Zuckerberg, or, indeed, anyone with a savvy disposition, with these abundant tools at their disposal.

“Private behaviour is a relic of a time gone by,” states Timberlake’s Parker.  In a world where we, as a society, volunteer our personal details and innermost thoughts to sites such as Facebook, this declaration could not be truer.  This film is a testament to modern society and depicts a moment in the history of modern communication which it would be criminal to overlook.

Star Rating: ****

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Film Review by Emma Champion: Toy Story 3 (2010) – Tom Hanks and Tim Allen (voices)

When I was 12, I began the painful process of packing away my toys.  Almost a third of my very-pink bedroom was a miniature, plastic Barbie village – a house, a café, a fashion boutique – they were a very important chapter of my childhood and I still remember how difficult it was to say goodbye.

I must have had at least fifty dolls, all of whom belonged in a world I had created, which had an intricate, on-going, soap-style storyline.  My dolls were separated into five families, all with differing, fictional surnames, and whenever I acquired a new doll, I would spend a lot of time deciding whose relative that doll would be, and what role he or she would play in the saga.

Upon preparing this miniature community for the attic, I packed each doll into a clear, plastic bag, and stuck a label on the outside explaining who that “person” was in the not-so-grand scheme of things – i.e. “Lindy Grayson (green top, denim skirt), daughter of Jackie Heart (pink dress) married to Paul Grayson (white t-shirt, leather jacket)” – and so on.  What can I say – it seemed important at the time.

However, if you asked me whether I ever considered what it might have felt like from the toy’s perspective to be tightly-wrapped in a sandwich bag and plunged into pitch-black incarceration, my honest answer would have been no, until I watched Toy Story 2 (1999).

In the late eighties, a Channel Four children’s programme entitled Rolf’s Cartoon Time (not Rolf’s Cartoon Club – that came later) showcased an animated short from a little-known company called Pixar.  The show’s presenter, Rolf Harris, enthusiastically proclaimed that everything we were about to see was created using state-of-the-art computer graphics.  The short was, of course, Luxo Jr (1986) – the now-famous film which introduced us to Pixar’s desk lamp mascot.  I remember turning to my mother and remarking on how long it must have taken for the animators to move the desk lamp frame-by-frame; too young and naive to understand how the effect had been created, and so new to computer-generated images that I had completely bought into the authenticity of what I was seeing.

Years later, Pixar’s first full-length feature, Toy Story (1995) – the story of two lost toys trying to get home to their owner – became a revelation in cinematic technology.  A benchmark as relevant as the first sound on film (The Jazz Singer, 1927) or the first Technicolor feature (The Toll of the Sea, 1922), Pixar gave moviegoers the first, full-length, animated feature ever to be fully rendered in CGI.  Instead of the flat, hand-drawn animation made famous by Walt Disney, we were treated to a more three-dimensional, visual treat, the like of which had never been seen before.  This added a sense of realism to cartoons for the very first time, and gave rise to a completely new niche in the animation genre.

Toy Story’s genius was born out of its clever placing of toys and brands we might recognise from our own childhoods, playing alongside the fictitious characters in order for adult members of the audience to relate to what was essentially a children’s tale (The Ohio Art Company’s legendary Etch-a-Sketch; Texas Instruments’ 1983 best-seller, Speak & Spell, etc).  Nostalgia is an alluring thing, and it is an important ingredient in what is now a very lucrative formula.

Toy Story 2 further played on these nostalgic elements, by highlighting the pitfalls of a toy’s existence when the owner’s childhood comes screeching to a halt and the toy no longer matters to the former child who once loved them dearly.  The sequence which showcased Cowgirl doll Jessie’s (Joan Cusack) back story was hailed by film critics as the most moving segment of animated film ever made.  And, girls like me all over the world became riddled with guilt as we remembered how we allowed our dolls to gather dust as we became more interested in make-up and clothes.

Enter Toy Story 3 (2010), the latest instalment in this fifteen-year yarn, and our Toy-troop are in the final throws of their time with the now-seventeen year-old Andy (voiced here by John Morris – the former child-actor, aged twenty-six, who lent his vocals to the same character in the 1995 original), about to leave home for college.  We learn, quite early in, that Andy has previously seen fit to get shot of quite a few of his old toys, including Woody’s (Tom Hanks) long-term sweetheart, Bo.  Already, our tear ducts are twitching, and we’ve barely made a dent in the running time.  Go easy on us, Pixar – this film is said to be the last in the Toy Story saga, and saying goodbye to these characters is as upsetting as packing away our own toy collections back in the day (just imagine, if you will, how the scene would have played out had the twelve-year-old-me been given the task of putting them away; out come the sandwich bags, and the first label reads, “Woody, best friend of Buzz…”).

High jinks ensue when Andy’s Mum (Laurie Metcalf) suggests he make some decisions regarding his toys – what will go in the attic, what will go in the bin and what he may decide to keep.  A little mix-up lands the toys in a day care centre, newly donated to enthusiastic toddlers.  Since Woody had been selected by Andy as the only toy who would accompany him to college and into adulthood, our cowboy hero feels duty-bound to separate from the tight-knit group and make his way home.  However, when he learns the true nature (and indeed, torture) of the day care centre, he heads back to find his friends and break them out of the clink…

Although we, as an audience are aware that Pixar are capable of far more complex visuals than the ones in use here (Wall-e, 2008 anyone?), it is clear that animators have not wanted to stray too far from the visual tone of the first two movies, so that the story is seamless should you choose to watch all three in consecutive order (unlike, say, the enormous leap from the clunky, unapologetic props and sets of the original Star Wars films, to the embarrassing over use of CG effects in the prequels).

Thanks to the gauntlet which has been thrown down by the first two films, there are certain beats in the rhythm of the plot that we expect to be hit – the heist-style escape plan; the play on Buzz LightYear’s (Tim Allen) delusional shortcomings; the unexpected villain; the outsider-toy’s back story; etc.  These predictable, reoccurring elements might serve to rouse boredom amongst an expectant audience, but Pixar pull it off beautifully, by taking what we expect and adding a flourish or a twist to proceedings.  A good example of this might be Buzz’s Lightyear’s “Spanish Mode”; each film has seen Buzz fully immersed in his Space Ranger persona for a spell before returning to his senses.  This film sees Buzz accidentally restored to his factory settings which inadvertently unleashes an Hispanic version of the “Astro-Nut”, spicing up the familiarity to great comic effect.

Speaking of comedy, there are moments of this movie that inspire genuine laughter.  Chuckles the Clown (Bud Luckey) and his melancholy expression; the all-seeing, cymbal-clashing security monkey embroiled in his jobs-worthiness; and Mattel man-doll, Ken (Michael Keaton), plagued by the reality that he is a girl’s toy designed as an accessory to the superior Barbie (voiced by an instantly-recognisable Jodi Benson, A.K.A Ariel, The Little Mermaid), will have sides inevitably splitting.

There are a few in-jokes and gentle tributes to be found in this film by anyone willing to look for them.  For example, one of Bonnie’s (Emily Hahn) cherished teddies is a plush version of Totoro – an acknowledgement of Studio Ghibli and its contribution to the advancement of animation (or, for cynics amongst you, a shameless, self-plug for Disney, who distribute the Ghibli films on DVD).  And the Picasso-esque transformation of Potato Head (Don Rickles) via the medium of the tortilla wrap – perhaps a statement in the Animation-as-Art debate.  Also, the licence plate on Andy’s Mum’s people-carrier is the same as it appears in the original.  Little touches like this create not only a sense of continuity but also a place in the real world from which to contextualise the narrative.

It is the disarmingly raw emotion of this film, however, which will stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling.  A scene in which our ensemble face certain death sends a chill down the spine as they all link hands in acceptance of their fate and find comfort in the fact that they are all together.  And, in a flashback which shows a baby doll separated from its owner, the doll emanates actual baby sounds, causing the viewer to instantly connect with sentiment reserved for a real baby being separated from its birth mother.  The strongest of these moments, however, can be found in the film’s conclusion; a sequence which lasts several minutes so that the viewer can absorb its enormity, I challenge even the hardest of hearts not to be moved by its poignancy.  The final image, in all its simplicity, serves to calcify the three films as one whole entity, and is pure genius at work.

It is fair to conclude that the Toy Story films will be regarded highly in the world of cinema for generations to come.  These characters are to be celebrated as the origin of all Pixar has achieved in the last fifteen years, and are symbols for many of what childhood meant to us all.  Toy Story 3 is a love letter to the boundless wonder that is a child’s imagination, and how our exploration of such limitlessness shapes us into the people we become.

Bitter sweet and entirely charming, this third instalment in a much-cherished story does nothing to tarnish what had already gone before.  Appealing to adults and engaging to children, Pixar have once again managed to get that elusive balance just right, proving outright that they are still the champions of the game for which they wrote the rules.

Star Rating: *****


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Film Review by Emma Champion: Inception (2010) – starring Leonardo DiCaprio


Leonardo DiCaprio is a sly old dog.  He wowed critics with his depictions of real-life writers, playing Tobias Wolff in This Boy’s Life (1993) (holding his own against a terrific Robert De Niro), and Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries (1995).  He nabbed his first Oscar nod at the tender age of twenty, for his astonishing performance as Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993); he was the physical embodiment of the quintessential heartthrob in the late nineties after playing romantic leads in both Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Titanic (1997).  Fearing for his credibility following the abundant hype which was born out of the latter, he endeavoured to showcase his artier side by choosing roles in films such as Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998) and in Don’s Plum (2001).  By this point, although well into his mid-twenties, DiCaprio had still not managed to shed his teenage-boy persona, and, as such, stirred laughter in the cinema isles every time he appeared on screen sporting facial hair.    It seemed as though DiCaprio’s flame was burning out, and that he might have gone as far as he could go.

However, he has, seemingly under the audience’s radar, undergone an incredible transformation; a reinvention not unlike those pulled off in the past by the likes of Madonna or John Travolta.  In making some very clever choices in the directors he works with and the parts he plays, cheeky-ol’ Leo has caused us all to blush with shame for ever having lost faith in his abilities.  At the height of the teenage-girl-lust-fest that was the R+J/Titanic aftermath, male moviegoers were embarrassed to go and see a film which had DiCaprio on the cast list.  He was very-much a female commodity, with his pretty face and his floppy blonde hair.  But, DiCaprio has managed an almost silent coup and is now respected as a man amongst men, and as more than a slab of proverbial meat by the ladies.

It is fair to say that something magical occurred for DiCaprio the moment he formed an alliance with legendary director, Martin Scorsese.  His turn as Amsterdam Vallon in Gang’s of New York (2002) showed us a new DiCaprio; no more were the blonde locks and the perfect tan – his hair was dark and so was his demeanour.  Playing a young man consumed with hate and thirsty for revenge, it gave our perception of the actor a newly-sharpened edge.  It certainly got Steven Spielberg’s attention, who signed him up to play real-life conman turned FBI consultant, Frank Abagnale Jr. in the acclaimed Catch Me If You Can (2002) (opposite a bang-on-form Tom Hanks); and DiCaprio, aware that he was clearly on to a good thing, went on to work with Scorsese three more times, with leading roles in The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006) and, most recently, Shutter Island (2010), in which his performance was nothing short of breathtaking.

Is it safe to assume then, that our man has shaken loose the shackles of his poster-boy past and hit his professional stride?  The answer to that, my friends, is a resounding yes, as his latest performance pays the viewer dividends.

In Christopher Nolan’s first film since the now-cult classic, The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010) sees Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a man with the technology and the psychological knowhow to be able to share dreams with people and extract information.  On his team he has Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – 500 Days of Summer (2009)), Eames (Tom Hardy – Bronson (2008)), Yusuf (Dileep Rao – Avatar (2009)) and with the help of his father-in-law, Miles (Christopher Nolan regular, Michael Caine), Cobb recruits newbie, Ariadne (Ellen Page – Juno (2007)).  The challenge set by influential businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe – The Last Samurai (2003)) is not to extract information as seems to be Cobb’s usual agenda, but to plant an idea into the head of business rival, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy – Sunshine (2007)); the idea to break apart the corporation left to him by Fischer Sr. (DiCaprio’s former R+J co-star, Pete Postlethwaite).  Cobb, having been deported from the US following claims that he may have killed his late wife, Mol (played here in dream sequences by Marion Cotillard – Public Enemies (2009)), is offered immunity from the authorities and a ticket back to the States and his estranged children by Saito, in return for his mind-altering services.  What Cobb’s team don’t know (with the exception of an inquisitive Ariadne) is that Cobb’s harboured guilt for how his life has gone effects his performance in the dream state, inducing a projected version of Mol who can pose a very-real threat to all involved in the proceedings.  It is up to Cobb to keep these feelings at bay in order to get the job done and keep his team alive in the process…

The concept of this film is similar in its nature to that of The Matrix (1998), in that our protagonists are hooked up to a machine and unconscious in reality, whilst their minds enter a fantasy world and do all the work.  And, like The Matrix, there are rules in place which tell us that what happens in the mind can seriously affect the body.  However, as Christopher Nolan brought plausibility to a comic book superhero, so too has he kept this story rooted to a spot from which the audience can buy into the plot, and accept that these things are possible.  This is not some sci-fi yarn set in the distant future – these are people who feel real to us, set in a time recognised as near-present, using modest-looking metal boxes and wires to perform a scientific endeavour.

There are some nice touches here – the concept of the Totem (a personal item which each person on the team must have on their person at all times; their anchor to reality) is especially poignant, and plays an integral part in the movie’s conclusion.  Also, the apparent hostility between Eames and Arthur, suggestive of their having worked together in the past, stirs a laugh or two in places. At one point, in the dream state, the team are armed with machine guns and are defending themselves against attackers.  Arthur stands and shoots his gun, then Eames approaches him from behind, his weapon notably bigger than Arthur’s, and says (in my favourite line from the script): “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, Darling…” – his bazooka-like gun spouting a single explosion which takes care of the enemy, and leaves Arthur rolling his eyes.

The performances from all the actors involved are of the highest class.  This is British actor, Tom Hardy’s most high-profile film to date, having performed attention-grabbing turns in both Bronson (2008) and television drama, The Take (2009), and it is my belief that here we have an extremely viable contender for the next 007 – you heard it here first.  He commands the screen when he is up there, and his devastating good-looks almost leave the handsome DiCaprio in the dust at times.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt also shines here, in particular during a sequence in which he is weightless, attempting to fight bad guys and get his people to safety simultaneously.  It is rumoured that Gordon-Levitt might play The Riddler in Nolan’s next instalment of the Batman franchise, though, at present, this is mere press speculation.

It is DiCaprio, however, whose star shines the brightest.  In his more-than-capable hands, the audience are guided through an extremely complex and potentially problematic plot, and come through on the other side relatively unscathed and possibly even a little enlightened.  The intensity and yet subtlety of his performance is a true testament to his being a weathered veteran of Tinsel Town, and a true heavyweight amongst the leading men in film today.  He makes Cobb easy to relate to in an environment which is not, and that takes skill.

Christopher Nolan’s genius as a director lays in his ability to take the utterly fantastic, and reiterate it from a very human, very real place.  This is a think-piece for the blockbuster crowd – that very rare creature which does not patronise its audience, but invites them merely to adjust all that they know of movies for a couple of hours and have a slightly different experience than they would usually have.  The audience are treated to a slice of intelligence, and still come away feeling like they’ve been on a rollercoaster ride.  It’s an incredible achievement.

Inception is charismatic and cool, enlightening and inspiring.  Its message about the depth of the human mind and all its potential is one which was much-needed in light of developments in modern technology.  It reminds us that no matter how amazing modern gadgetry is, it only came into fruition because somebody somewhere thought of it; that the mind is capable of so much more than we use it for; and that our relationships with others can move the paths of our lives.  In addition to this, the film’s ending will be a discussion topic amongst cinephiles the world over for years to come.

Star Rating:  *****


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Film Review by Emma Champion: “Iron Man 2” (2010) – starring Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow

Tony Stark

When last we saw Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the first, attention-grabbing instalment of Iron Man (2008), he had announced to the world that he was, in fact, the titular titan of triumph in the battle against his arch nemesis, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), and the man behind the ever-polished metal suit.  This presented an interesting starting point for a potential sequel, in that it is a rarity for any hero to proclaim who he is to the public instead of maintaining the conventional “secret identity”.  Instead of exploring this concept however, director, Jon Favreau, appears to have gotten lost in the hype of his own franchise, the result of which is an effort which has “try-hard” written all over it.

Iron Man 2 (2010) opens with an introduction to Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), son of a former colleague of Stark’s late father, Howard (John Slattery).  Names printed on original blueprints for the machine which inspired the design for Stark’s “heart” – the thing with the pretty blue lights on it which resides in Stark’s chest and keeps him alive – suggest that the design was a joint effort between Vanko’s father, Anton (Yevgeni Lazerev) and Stark Sr.  Whilst Tony Stark is being celebrated for his creation on all international news channels, Ivan, driven by Anton’s untimely death, seeks to avenge his father’s lack of recognition by building a suit capable of standing against Stark.  What follows is a very public showdown between a metal-suited Vanko and Stark’s Iron Man, which lands Vanko in prison when he is defeated.  This is where one of Tony Stark’s corporate rivals finds him; a man named Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).  Knowing the US government want ownership of the Iron Man suit to be utilised as a weapon in times of war, Hammer sees an opportunity to dwarf Stark Industries and make some money to boot.  Hammer tasks Vanko to create an army of robotic drones based on the technology of the Iron Man suit, to be sold to the US Military for millions of dollars.  However, Vanko has his own agenda, and his promises to Hammer are not kept; translation: the excrement is inevitably going to hit the proverbial fan…

This film sees some interesting developments following on from the first.  Most notable is the choice to replace actor Terence Howard for Don Cheadle in the role of Rhodey.  Apparently, this decision was born out of a dispute in which Howard demanded a higher pay packet for his contribution to the franchise.  However, one might argue that Favreau was looking to give his film more weight in terms of critical acclaim, given that Cheadle was Oscar© nominated for his work in Hotel Rwanda (2004).  Those who were patient enough to stay in their seats until the end of the credits on the first movie would not have been surprised at the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who is criminally under-used here as the director of SHIELD (remember to stay until the very end this time too, folks, for a sneaky teaser scene linking the plot of Iron Man 2 to the forthcoming Marvel movie, Thor, ETA 2011).  Fury’s fellow SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssen) feels like an unnecessary addition to the cast, whose presence fails to flow with the other characters, and would be far better suited to her own spin-off film.  Despite this, the continuity of one film into the next feels otherwise seamless, with the return of Paul Bettany as the voice of Stark’s computer, Jarvis, and of Favreau himself as Happy Hogan.

The quality of the special effects is undeniable.  Industrial Light and Magic have repeated what they managed to achieve on the first film, which was to make it impossible to spot the “joins” as it were, between live action and CGI; but, they have also improved upon their first effort, which is quite a staggering achievement.  However, for all its bells and whistles, it is a film which fails to emotionally engage its audience, with the human interest elements of the plot taking a back seat to effects-heavy set pieces.  For example, the narrative lightly touches upon father/son relationship themes, as well as a barely-detectable love interest between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), but the rest is a primarily visual feast, despite a fairly intelligent script.

The only other mild irritation was the extreme presence of product placement, namely by car manufacturer, Audi, who, quite clearly, must have paid a pretty packet to ensure that not only their cars were showcased as though the audience were watching a commercial, but that their logo appeared in neon lights at crucial parts of the film.  When product placement is subtle, it’s tolerable; when it’s this obvious, it’s borderline insulting.  Ironically, the film was prefixed by a short advertisement by mobile phone giant, Orange, which see’s the cast of upcoming release The A Team (2010) satirize the idea of product placement by re-hashing scenes from the trailer to incorporate Orange products and services.  The presence of Audi in Iron Man 2 is not far off from this parody.

The running time of this film feels around twenty minutes too long, adding to the over-all sense of over-indulgence this movie emanates as a whole.  Iron Man 2 is reminiscent of that boy in high school who was good-looking and popular, but knew it, causing the girls who saw through the act – as apposed to the girls who fell for his charms and swooned –  to roll their eyes and say “Oh, per-lease”.  This film’s ego is mirrored in the ego of Tony Stark’s character; it makes an entrance believing it’s the best thing in creation, adopting all the elements of a smash hit (stellar cast, killer soundtrack, etc), and oozing charisma with its rapier wit and its overwhelming visuals, and yet, still fails to evoke any real feeling.  However, those looking for an easy-on-the-brain action bonanza, i.e. fans of the original film, will be the ones to, erm, fall for its charms and swoon.

Star rating: * * *


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Emma Champion’s Annual Oscar® Report 2010


23.00 – 01.00:

Red Carpet Coverage live on E! Channel, following the A-Listers as they saunter gracefully into the Kodak Theatre.  Highlights: James Cameron and Suzy Amis’s colour coordinating outfits; panic on the red carpet when a freak rain shower hits in LA where it NEVER rains; Charlize Theron’s hideous “Crinkly Breasts” dress; Sigourney Weaver admitting she’s learning to pole dance for her latest role; Kathryn Bigalow rockin’ the house for the ladies looking tall and fabulous in a sleeveless, mauve gown; George Clooney nervously sporting an eighties mullet; Penelope Cruz in a striking, deep scarlet dress; Jane Seymour getting snubbed by Ryan Seacrest; Sandra Bullock, aged 45, not looking a day over 25; Keanu Reeves looking incredibly handsome, bantering with Gabourey Sidibe, touching fists as he excuses himself like glamorous gang members parting company, whilst Woody Harrelson leans in and kisses her cheek, and she dances for the camera saying, “If fashion was porn then this (her dress) is the money shot…”;  Taylor Lautner’s bowtie; Meryl Streep’s draping neckline; Gerard Butler promising to “pull a moony” (i.e. show his bare backside) on the stage – promises, promises, Gerard; Sarah-Jessica Parker’s lemon-coloured, stone-studded gown, and  My Girl ™ Kate Winslet looking the most stunning she has ever looked in gunmetal-grey silk.


Sky Movies Premiere begins its live coverage of the 82nd Academy Awards.  Highlights of last year’s show reminds me what a great time I’m in for; the Baz Luhrmann-directed stage number performed by Beyoncé Knowles and Hugh Jackman was easily my favourite moment from 2009’s ceremony, and my favourite win was of course My Girl™ Kate Winslet collecting her long-deserved statuette.

Let’s see what 2010 has in store once the world’s most irritating woman, Claudia Winkleman, stops gabbing to celebrity-guest-afterthought, David Baddiel…  We learn that this is Matt Damon’s first nomination in 12 years, since he and Ben Affleck won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting – which, incidentally, was my first Oscar Night.  I’ve been here the whole time, Matt!  Last-minute prediction: Jack Nicholson will wear sunglasses inside the auditorium.


Showtime!  We are introduced to the evening’s big nominees who stand nervously on stage as the band plays and the crowd applauds.  How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick-Harris opens with a musical number! Random!!  He announces himself saying, “I know!  What am I doing here?”  Dancers! Feathers!  Hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are lowered from the gods.  And so the inevitable banter ensues.  Steve Martin quips, “Meryl Streep holds the record for the most Oscar nominations or as I like to think of it, most losses…”  Alec Baldwin announces, “And welcome to that Damn Judy Dench…”  Steve Martin interjects saying, “No, Alec, that’s Dame Judy Dench…”  I’m liking George Clooney’s grumpy face…


Penelope Cruz presents the first award of the night:  Best Supporting Actor.  Glad of the return of the “Oscar Clip” over last year’s “Peer’s Gush-Fest”.

Prediction: Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones

Winner: Christoph Waltz for Inglorious Basterds


Ryan Reynolds talks about Best Picture nominee, The Blind Side, starring his The Proposal co-star Sandra Bullock.  The introduction is followed by a trailer-style montage.  This marks a return to an older Oscar Ceremony format that hasn’t been seen since my first Oscar night back in 1998, and is most welcome, not to mention spooky.  The night will be peppered with these heartfelt reminders of the Best Picture Nominees.


Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrel take to the stage to introduce the nominees for Best Animated Film.  Preceded by a specially-made clip an animated junket-style interview scenario with several characters such as Coraline, Prince Naveed, and the cast of Fantastic Mr. Fox  – brilliant!

Prediction: Up

Winner: Up


Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus present the nominees for Best original Song.

Prediction:  “I’m Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog.

Winner:  “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart


Star Trek star Chris Pine takes to the stage in a smart bowtie to talk about Best Picture nominee, District 9


Robert Downey Jr and Tina Fey introduce the nominees for Best Original Screenplay with comedy.  Downey Jr:  “Actors look for scripts with specificity and a warm filming location…”

Prediction: Up

Winner: The Hurt Locker


Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald take to the stage to pay moving tribute to the late director, John Hughes.  A montage of clips reminds us what a genius the world of film has lost.  And then we are given some of the stars of those eighties teen classics on stage, all grown-up, including Ally Sheedy (who has not aged well, sadly) and Macaulay Culkin.


Samuel L. Jackson talks about Best Picture nominee, Up


The pace of this year’s show is moving along quite well – it is not meandering as it often does.  The winners are keeping their speeches short and concise.  Carrie Mulligan and Zoe Saldana introduce the nominees for Best Animated Short.

Prediction: Logorama

Winner: Logorama

Also, the nominees for Best Documentary Short.

Prediction: Rabbit a la Berlin

Winner: Music by Prudence

Also, the nominees for Best Live-Action Short.

Prediction: Miracle Fish.

Winner: The New Tenants


Ben Stiller takes to the stage made up as a Na’vi!  “This seemed like a better idea in rehearsal…” he says.  One of the best comedy moments of the night, as Stiller talks to James Cameron in Na’vi language whilst his tail dances of its own accord!  He is here, ironically, to present the award for Best Make-Up.

Prediction: The Young Victoria

Winner:  Star Trek


Jeff Bridges talks about Best Picture nominee, A Serious Man


Jake Gyllenhall and Rachel McAdams introduce the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Prediction:  Up in the Air.

Winner:  Precious

Most moving speech of the night from writer Geoffrey Fletcher, followed by Steve Martin saying, “I wrote that speech for him…”


Queen Latifa introduces the highlights of the Academy’s Governors Awards.


Robin Williams takes to the stage to tell us that the governors Ball will be held later that night, adding, “Just one of many balls being held all over Hollywood tonight…”  He is also here to present the award for Best Supporting Actress.

Prediction:  Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air

Winner:  Moniqué for Precious

Best line from her speech:  “Sometimes you have to forego doing what is popular to do what is right.”


Colin Firth talks about Best Picture nominee, An Education


Sigourney Weaver takes to the stage to introduce the award for Best Art Direction.

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  Avatar

Finally!  Avatar has won a well-deserved Oscar!!  Let the white-wash begin…please…


Tom Ford and Sarah-Jessica Parker arrive to present the award for Best Costume Design.

Prediction:  The Young Victoria

Winner:  The Young Victoria

British Costume Designer and two-time Oscar-winner Sandy Powell accepts her award saying, “I already have two of these – I’m beginning to feel greedy…”


Charlize Theron talks about Best Picture nominee, Precious


Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin send up Paranormal Activity in a special film.  Hilarious!


Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner take to the stage and introduce a tribute to Horror Movies.  The band plays through their dialogue, drowning them out.  A bit cringe-worthy…


Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick introduce the award for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.  Morgan Freeman narrates a film about how Sound Editing is achieved, using The Dark Knight as an example.

Editing – Prediction: Avatar; Winner:  The Hurt Locker

Mixing – Prediction:  Avatar; Winner:  The Hurt Locker

The “woman-scorned” Bigalow beats ex-husband Cameron to the punch – twice!!  Girl Power!


Elizabeth Banks introduces the highlights of the Academy’s Sci-Tech ceremony.


Tarrantino Veteran, John Travolta, talks about Best Picture nominee, Inglorious Basterds


Steve Martin introduces Sandra Bullock by saying “Please welcome my very dear friend, and by that I mean I’ve never met her…”  She presents the award for Best Cinematography.

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  Avatar


Demi Moore introduces the “In Memoriam” section, presumably because she was Patrick Swayze’s co-star in Ghost – a movie legend we sadly lost this year.  Others include Jean Simmons, David Carradine, Natasha Richardson, Brittany Murphy, and Disney Executive (and Walt’s nephew), Roy Disney.


Sam Worthington and Jennifer Lopez present the award for Best Original Score.  God, I love his Aussie accent.  I have a “thing” for men with accents I think…It’s the obligatory “Dance Act” section – another retro, Oscar tradition which has been reintroduced.  They perform to a medley of music by the nominees in the category.

Prediction:  James Horner for Avatar

Winner:  Michael Giacchino for Up


Gerard Butler (yummy) and Bradley Cooper introduce the nominees for Best Visual Effects.

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  Avatar


Jason Reitman talks about Best Picture Nominee, Up in the Air


Matt Damon presents the award for Best Documentary Feature.  Alec Baldwin introduces Damon by saying, “Our next presenter won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at age 27, and then went on to become an action star, making him the only screen writer in history to get any action…”

Prediction:  Food, Inc

Winner:  The Cove – made by Short Circuit star Fisher Stevens!


And now for Best Film Editing.

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  The Hurt Locker


Keanu Reeves talks about Best Picture nominee The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigalow, who directed Reeves in Point Break back in 1991, which was also executive produced by James Cameron…


Pedro Almodòvar and Quentin Tarantino present the award for Best Foreign Film.

Prediction: A Prophet

Winner: The Secret in their Eyes


Titanic star Kathy Bates talks about Best Picture Nominee, Avatar


Now for Best Actor in a Leading Role.  Michelle Pfieffer, Tim Robbins, Colin Farrell, Vera Farminga and Julianne Moore take to the stage for the Gush-Fest I hoped had been eradicated after last year.  They wax lyrical and share anecdotes, the best of which was Tim Robbins story about being with Morgan Freeman on the set of The Shawshank Redemption.  “On the first day of shooting I asked Morgan what it means to be someone’s friend.  Morgan said to me, “Being a friend is getting someone a cup of coffee – can you do that for me, Ted?” Finally, My Girl™ Kate Winslet presents the award.

Prediction:  Colin Firth

Winner: Jeff Bridges


Now for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  Forest Whittaker, Michael Sheen, Peter Sarsgaard, Oprah Winfrey, and Stanley Tucci take to the stage for Gush-Fest number two.   Sean Penn finally presents the award.

Prediction:  Sandra Bullock

Winner:  Sandra Bullock

Best speech of the night, hands down.


Now for Best Director.  Barbara Streisand presents the award.

Prediction:  James Cameron for Avatar

Winner: Kathryn Bigalow for The Hurt Locker.

What does a man have to do to get an Oscar for Best Director?  Invent an entirely new way of making films?  Nope – that’s not enough for the Academy…


1943 was the last time 10 films were nominated for Best Picture, Tom Hanks tells us.  This is the announcement of the winner of Best Picture.

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  The Hurt Locker


And so concludes another Oscar Night.  Steve Martin finishes by saying, “The show has been so long that Avatar now takes place in the past…”  Some shocks and surprises; but, if you read my predictions from earlier, strangely predictable outcomes in the face of all the perplexity.  I feel James Cameron has been robbed, and deserved more acknowledgement for ushering a new cinematic era.  But never mind – it was still a great night.  I’m off to bed finally!  See you all next year for Oscar 83, and my Lucky 13.

Emma Champion

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Film Review by Emma Champion: Avatar (2009) – starring Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana

James Cameron is a rather strange anomaly in the world of film.  He goes all-out to bring original, ground-breaking movies to his audiences – some of which have become the most iconic films of all-time – such as Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), True Lies (1994) and, of course, the record-breaking, Oscar-winning tour-de-force that was Titanic (1997).  However, here’s where the weirdness enters into it: despite all these phenomenal successes on his illustrious CV, there were still people who dared to doubt his ability to deliver the most important project of his career, and, perhaps, of all-time.  Attention haters: you might want to eat your hats with a side-salad and a glass of water.

Avatar (2009) is Cameron’s latest attempt to make new headway in the movie biz, adopting newly-developed camera technology to create something truly unique.  It tells the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine who is sent to the planet of Pandora in place of his late twin brother.  Jake is placed on The Avatar Program, which involves humans growing genetic avatar bodies for humans to download their consciousnesses into in order to better mingle with the indigenous population – an alien race known as the Na’vi.  Working with the science team led by Doctor Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), Jake also moonlights as a spy for the corporate team led by money-hungry Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) and crazed Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).  Whilst Augustine is only interested in the wellbeing of the race and in understanding the Na’vi, Selfridge and the Colonel are only interested in one thing: a rare mineral, aptly-named Unobtainium – an abundance of which sits directly below the village of one particular tribe of natives.  Jake is sent into the field in his able-bodied avatar to get close to the Na’vi in order to establish a way to reach the Unobtainium.  What he doesn’t bank on is the extent to which he will fall in love with their culture and their world, as well as one particularly pretty female hunter by the name of Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  When the time comes for Selfridge and the Colonel to strike, Jake must decide where his loyalties lie…

Detail like this has never before been rendered in CGI.  James Cameron has been waiting since he wrote the first draft of the script back in 1995 for technology to catch up to his vivid, and seemingly, limitless imagination.  With the help of Abyss camera whiz Vincent Pace, inventor of the camera technology which made Cameron’s numerous deep-sea expeditions filmable, a new camera system – the Cameron/Pace Fusion 3D Camera System to be precise – enabled Cameron to both up-the-ante in terms of motion capture and make it possible for the actors to see what Pandora would look like around them, as well as their blue-skinned alter-egos, on camera whilst still on set, in real time.  The result is literally breathtaking – you will gasp a-plenty at the sight of every whimsical creature; of every unfamiliar plant; of every new-fangled military machine; and of every picturesque landscape.  An especially favourable nod must be tilted to the character of Neytiri; she may just be the most beautiful creature ever beheld on celluloid; and yet another empowered female string to add to the bold bow that is Cameron’s back catalogue – she’s right up there with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor in terms of arse-kickery.

Like most masterpieces, Avatar begs, borrows and steals from films that have come before it, with notable references to films such as The Matrix: Revolutions (2003) (the heavy-duty body army of the soldiers) and, arguably, Pocahontas (1995) (Man taught to understand and respect a strange new land from the perspective of the natives).  The most obvious comparison to be made is that of Avatar to online gaming sensation, World of Warcraft (configure a being of a fantasy race to look like yourself and run around a fictional world, trying your best to survive and progress).  Since Avatar is said to have grossed over £230,000,000 at the box office during its opening weekend alone, it would be almost negligible of Lightstorm’s merchandising department to overlook or fail to consider the prospect of a Pandora-based game which follows Warcraft’s successful formula.  You heard it predicted here first: watch this space.

There is something here for both the Terminator geeks and the Titanic fanatics.  Does this live up to all the hype, I hear you cry?  From a technical perspective, it certainly does, and then some.  Visually, you cannot fault this film.  There has been nothing like it before, and filmmakers everywhere are now doing their utmost to emulate its optical prowess.  Fans of Cameron’s previous sci-fi efforts are more than catered for with a plethora of hard-core machinery and action sequences.  However, these are the fans who might find themselves a little restless during the spiritual, touchy-feely segments of the story.  It is the devotees to Cameron’s nautical epic that will lap these sequences up, feeling their hearts swell when Jake learns to fly a “Banshee” or when he “chooses his woman.”  Regardless of which you are, you will find yourselves clutching the arms of your chair with knuckles white as snow during the final reel, which features a heart-stopping stand-off between the Na’vi and the humans – a phenomenal filmic achievement in itself.  That said, Avatar fails to elevate its audience to the kinds of emotional heights that Titanic achieved.  A disappointingly tidy ending leaves you wanting for something – making you feel like an ungrateful child at Christmas time, sat in a pile of presents, and still yearning for the one thing you didn’t get.

There are also a few beats within Avatar’s narrative relevant to the heartbeat of Earth, present day; look out for the scenes which see the brutal destruction of Home Tree – the fall of the Omatacaya tribe’s village at the hands of the humans.  There are definite parallels between this event and those which transpired in New York on September 11th 2001 – the falling of a large structure amidst fire and smoke; a devastated population; victims trudging through the ash; leaves gently flittering to the ground in the aftermath – reminiscent of the little bits of paper and ash which rained down from the Twin Towers on 9/11.  These postmodern references, coupled with a clear environmental message pertinent to current climate change movement, make Avatar a movie with a message; it preaches that man became their own worst enemy and destroyed their world.  Jake speaks to Na’vi deity Eywa, saying “…the world we come from – there is no green there…”  Jake and the Na’vi stand up and fight for the “green” land of Pandora, and I am sure this is meant to inspire us to fight for the same cause here on 21st century Earth.

But don’t be fooled into thinking this might not be worthy of your time.  One can’t help but admire Avatar for its boldness and its beauty.  Pandora is a place you simply don’t want to leave once you’ve spent time there.  You will already be planning your return journey before the credits have finished rolling.

This is history in the making, and you’d be crazy to miss it.  Avatar is staggeringly stunning in IMAX format, a wonder to behold in Real D, and even promises to hold up in old-school, 2D.  It remains to be seen how the DVD release will be handled – the 3D certainly transforms this from viewing pleasure to physical experience, and will be hard to replicate in your average living room.  In light of all this, it is pretty hard to deny that this film has certainly set a new standard, and Cameron’s contemporaries will have a hard time matching this effort.  This is a great achievement in filmmaking.

Highly recommended – and then some.

Emma Champion


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Film Review by Emma Champion: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) – starring Robert Pattinson

Robert Pattinson probably doesn’t know what’s hit him.  One minute you’re Frederick Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – some expendable plot device in another boy’s story.  The next, you’re the star of one of the biggest teen movie franchises to ever emerge, you’re mobbed in the streets, and your face is plastered on the wall of every girl and sexually-confused boy in the world.  What gives?

When it was announced that Stephenie Meyer’s series of vampire novels were to be turned into a series of films, immediate comparisons were made to the Potter franchise.  A series of books, immensely popular with teens, links to the occult, etc.  Robert Pattinson had been but a bit-player in the Potter saga.  What gives is that Pattinson has achieved the ultimate in actor’s revenge, and come back as the protagonist of an even bigger beast than JK Rowling’s tame boy-wizard could ever command.

New Moon (2009) is the second story in the on-going Twilight Saga, continuing the story of star-crossed lovers Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), and their determination to be together in spite of their differences – namely that he drinks blood, and she doesn’t, but she has blood, and he has to resist…blah, blah, blah.  Enough about that – lets talk abs.

Bit-part Jacob (Taylor Lautner) returns for more following the highly successful original film, Twilight (2008), but this time, he plays a more significant role – not just in Bella’s life but visually also.  Lautner provides a fine alternative to all the Pattinson hype – he is muscular, toned, tanned, and feisty, as apposed to lanky, pasty, morose and melancholy.  A colourful antidote to all the doom and gloom, Lautner’s Jacob lights up the piece – the much needed Rocker to Edward Cullan’s Emo.

It’s every bit as angst-ridden as one might have expected – following an incident at the Cullen residence in which Bella nearly dies, Edward makes the decision to up and leave, telling the poor smitten girl that he no longer wants her and that she’ll never see him again.  Consumed with grief, Bella quickly figures out that Edward appears before her every time she puts herself in danger, and so, she becomes something of a Kamikaze – crashing motorbikes and jumping off cliffs (I’m not even exaggerating).  Somewhere in all her turbulence she begins to lean on her good friend Jacob for support, and he’s not likely to protest given that he’s blatantly in love with her.  No sooner are the audience chanting “someone’s gonna get hurt…” that Jacob’s behaviour begins to change – he displays aggression, anger – and he does all of this without his shirt on.  However, turns out, (spoiler alert) he’s a ware-wolf!  Is Bella incapable of attracting a nice, normal, HUMAN fella?!

When Edward learns the false truth that Bella is dead, he decides to anger the Volturi – a high-council of Vampires who, evidently, kill other Vampires when they show themselves to humans.  Bella tells Wolf-Boy where to go, and it’s off to Italy to save the love of her life…before it’s too late.  Will she make it?

It’s as hammy as they come.  It’s ridiculous in places – why does Bella never question the fact that Jacob is always half-naked?! – and Pattinson, the franchise’s meal ticket, just barely features at all.  Look for the scene which features a stand-off between Jacob and Edward’s “sister” Alice in Bella’s kitchen – it oozes school-play-cringe-worthiness.  Thank God for the franchise’s unsung supporting cast, who provide much-needed comic relief throughout.

All that happens when you take life too seriously is you make yourself miserable.  So, my advice is this:  let yourself be swept away in the overly-intense romance of it all.  This is every woman’s fantasy of how much a man should care about the woman in his life.  No man could ever live up to it, so enjoy it for what it is – a rare glimpse of what true, all-consuming passion is supposed to look like.  Edward Cullan is, after all, a man written by a woman.  Take notes, Boys.  The pressure’s really on now.

If you loved the first movie, and the facts and figures suggest that plenty of you did, then this is more of the same and you’ll go crazy for it.  If you weren’t bothered before, this won’t change anything.  Simple as that.

Recommended to true Twi-Hards only.


Emma Champion


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