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.

buy Dilantin online from canada Star rating: * * *

 

Image sourced at:

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Emma Champion’s Annual Oscar® Report 2010

Oscars

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.

01.00:

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.

01.30:

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…

01.45:

Penelope Cruz presents the first award of the night:   click this over here now 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

01.50:

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.

01.55:

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

02.00:

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

02.05:

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

02.15:

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

02.20:

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.

02.25:

Samuel L. Jackson talks about Best Picture nominee, Up

02.30:

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

02.40:

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

02.45:

Jeff Bridges talks about Best Picture nominee, A Serious Man

02.50:

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…”

02.55:

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

03.00:

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.”

03.05:

Colin Firth talks about Best Picture nominee, An Education

03.10:

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…

03.10:

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…”

03.15:

Charlize Theron talks about Best Picture nominee, Precious

03.20:

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

03.22:

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…

03.25:

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!

03.30:

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

03.31:

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

03.35:

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

03.42:

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.

03.45:

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

03.55:

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

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  Avatar

04.00:

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

04.05:

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!

04.10:

And now for Best Film Editing.

Prediction:  Avatar

Winner:  The Hurt Locker

04.12:

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…

04.14:

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

Prediction: A Prophet

Winner: The Secret in their Eyes

04.20:

Titanic star Kathy Bates talks about Best Picture Nominee, Avatar

04.25:

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

04.40:

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.

04.53:

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…

05.00:

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

05.05:

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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Emma Champion’s Oscar Predictions 2010

Oscars

Well, it’s that time of year again, folks!  That time when crazy Emma Champion buys a bottle of wine, some microwave popcorn, and stays up all night to bring you all the news and gossip from the Academy Awards live as it happens!  Why does she do it, I hear you cry: dedication; dedication to her love of the cinema and all the people who bring the medium fourth to movie freaks like she.

This will be my twelfth Oscar Night – and I’m happy to do it.

Predictions are hard to make this year. The BAFTA’s and the Golden Globes are no longer an indicator of anything.  BAFTA always snub the obvious choice in favour of something artier; Golden Globes seem to echo the feelings of the audience; but the Academy?  The Academy strongly favours the biopic, or any film in which an actor undergoes a dramatic transformation in the make-up department (Jamie Foxx in Ray, Nicole Kidman in The Hours, Charlize Theron in Monster, anyone?), or any high-drama depress-fest which might fall under the category of “think piece”.

The box office smashes that audiences go wild for are usually relegated to the Effects, Sound and Editing categories (note the terrible Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’s one pity nomination for Sound Mixing).

This is what makes Avatar such an anomaly.  It is not Academy-friendly, as it is a bona-fide blockbuster riddled with special effects and plagued by a floored, and, some might think, overly simple plot.  But, therein lays its genius.  It changed the way films are distributed and exhibited, it features ground-breaking effects, and its director invented a new camera system in the process of its making, which all the best filmmakers in Hollywood are itching to get their hands on.   Therefore, if I stay up all night tonight just to bear witness to a four-hour Avatar snub-athon, I will not be best impressed.

I feel Colin Firth might repeat his BAFTA success tonight in the Lead Actor category, not just because it was an incredible performance in A Single Man, but because he died his hair gray to play the part (if my theory about the Academy’s love for a change of appearance by the actor is to be believed).  However, one cannot ignore the powerhouse performance George Clooney gave in the fantastic Up in the Air – this is my favoured winner.

For Supporting Actor, I predict that this is finally The Lovely Bones’ Stanley Tucci’s night to shine.  He has been long-overlooked in Hollyweird, and it’s about time the Academy patted him on the back.

In the Leading Actress category, I feel it is neck-and-neck between Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (arguably her Erin Brockovich) and Gabourey Sidibe for her performance in Precious.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Twilight star Anna Kendrick will walk away with the Supporting Actress gong for her work in Up in the Air, as many-a-time she out-shone Clooney on the big screen.

Best Animated Film belongs to Up.  Enough said.  The most striking element of this year’s nomination list is that Pixar’s highly-successful buddy film is also nominated for Best Picture, making it the only animated film to be acknowledged as a film in its own right as well as an animated feature, since Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1992 (nominated for Best Picture at a time when there was not a Best Animated Feature category).

All Effects, Sound, Editing, and Art Direction categories will be dominated by Avatar wins I expect.

Since Leona Lewis has been spectacularly snubbed for her performance of the song “I See You” from Avatar in the category of Best Song, I will be rooting for “I’m Almost There” from Walt Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, written by Randy Newman.  Best Score should go to James Horner for Avatar, but I feel it will go to Michael Giacchino for Up.

The rest I will leave to fate and my own sense of surprise.  But spare a thought for me when you are warm in your beds tonight; for I will be striving to bring you all the details from the most glittering star on Hollywood’s calendar.

Happy Oscar Night, Everyone!

Emma Champion.

 

Full list of Nominees:

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
  • George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
  • Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
  • Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Matt Damon in “Invictus”
  • Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
  • Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
  • Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
  • Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
  • Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”
  • Carey Mulligan in “An Education”
  • Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
  • Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Penélope Cruz in “Nine”
  • Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
  • Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”
  • Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

Animated Feature Film

  • Coraline” Henry Selick
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox” Wes Anderson
  • The Princess and the Frog” John Musker and Ron Clements
  • The Secret of Kells” Tomm Moore
  • Up” Pete Docter

Art Direction

  • Avatar” Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith
  • Nine” Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
  • Sherlock Holmes” Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • The Young Victoria” Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Cinematography

  • Avatar” Mauro Fiore
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” Bruno Delbonnel
  • The Hurt Locker” Barry Ackroyd
  • Inglourious Basterds” Robert Richardson
  • The White Ribbon” Christian Berger

Costume Design

  • Bright Star” Janet Patterson
  • Coco before Chanel” Catherine Leterrier
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” Monique Prudhomme
  • Nine” Colleen Atwood
  • The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell

Directing

  • Avatar” James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
  • Inglourious Basterds” Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air” Jason Reitman

Documentary (Feature)

  • Burma VJ” Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller
  • The Cove” Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
  • Food, Inc.” Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
  • Which Way Home” Rebecca Cammisa

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province” Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill
  • The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner” Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher
  • The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
  • Music by Prudence” Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett
  • Rabbit à la Berlin” Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra

Film Editing

  • Avatar” Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
  • District 9” Julian Clarke
  • The Hurt Locker” Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
  • Inglourious Basterds” Sally Menke
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Joe Klotz

Foreign Language Film

  • Ajami” Israel
  • The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada)” Peru
  • A Prophet (Un Prophète)” France
  • The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)” Argentina
  • The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)” Germany

Makeup

  • Il Divo” Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
  • Star Trek” Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
  • The Young Victoria” Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

Music (Original Score)

  • Avatar” James Horner
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox” Alexandre Desplat
  • The Hurt Locker” Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
  • Sherlock Holmes” Hans Zimmer
  • Up” Michael Giacchino

Music (Original Song)

  • Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36” Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas
  • Take It All” from “Nine” Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
  • The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart” Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Best Picture

  • Avatar” James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
  • The Blind Side” Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson, Producers
  • District 9” Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
  • An Education” Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
  • The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro, Producers
  • Inglourious Basterds” Lawrence Bender, Producer
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
  • A Serious Man” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
  • Up” Jonas Rivera, Producer
  • Up in the Air” Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Short Film (Animated)

  • French Roast” Fabrice O. Joubert
  • Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell
  • The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)” Javier Recio Gracia
  • Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin
  • A Matter of Loaf and Death” Nick Park

Short Film (Live Action)

  • The Door” Juanita Wilson and James Flynn
  • Instead of Abracadabra” Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström
  • Kavi” Gregg Helvey
  • Miracle Fish” Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey
  • The New Tenants” Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

Sound Editing

  • Avatar” Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
  • The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson
  • Inglourious Basterds” Wylie Stateman
  • Star Trek” Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
  • Up” Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

Sound Mixing

  • Avatar” Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
  • The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
  • Inglourious Basterds” Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano
  • Star Trek” Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

Visual Effects

  • Avatar” Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones
  • District 9” Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken
  • Star Trek” Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • District 9” Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • An Education” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
  • In the Loop” Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air” Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • The Hurt Locker” Written by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds” Written by Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger” Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man” Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • Up” Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

 

Emma Champion

 

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http://nyoobserver.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/oscars.jpg

Article by Emma Champion: Dorothy Koomson releases her first hardback novel, The Ice Cream Girls

Ice Cream Girls Cover

There’s a saying which goes, “once bitten, twice shy”.  However, when Dorothy Koomson was bitten by the writing bug at the tender age of thirteen, it left her with nothing to be shy about.

Dorothy’s first novel, There’s a Thin Line between Love and Hate, written in her early teens, was serialised for the eyes of those she shared a playground with at convent school.  Realising she had them all hooked, Dorothy realised there might be something to this writing “lark”.

Koomson grew up in the city of London, and then claims that she “grew up again”, as many of us do, when she migrated further north to attend university.  After achieving a BA (Hons) in Psychology and Media at the University of Leeds, Koomson headed back to the nation’s capital where she achieved an MA in Journalism.  Now, armed with a veritable arsenal of qualifications, Koomson was ready to show the world what she could do.  Deciding to stay in London for a spell, she took on the very daunting world of office temping, until finally, she scored her big break into the writing world when this lead her to roles editing and sub-editing on both national newspapers and women’s magazines based in and around the city.

Now with an established career and new-found success, Dorothy Koomson found herself at a point where she was able to ask herself where her heart truly lay.  Naturally, her heart remained true to her first love – storytelling.  One day she had an idea for the novel that would launch her fiction career – the fantastic and immensely popular The Cupid Effect (2001).  Since then, she has never looked back – in 2006 Koomson’s third novel, My Best Friend’s Girl was selected by television presenters Richard and Judy for their prestigious Summer Reads Book Club, and inspired a further 500,000 book purchases on top of the already-astounding 90,000 copies sold.  This was the moment when Dorothy Koomson could honestly admit she had the world at her feet.  There was nothing she could not accomplish if she simply put her mind to it.  Not wanting to let her Masters degree in Journalism go to waste, Koomson has spent the last two years island-hopping between the UK and Sydney, Australia, where she works full-time on a women’s glossy publication.  “I’m hoping it will help me grow up,” she recently told Waterstone’s.  “That hasn’t happened yet, but I live in hope.”

So, what next for our home-grown, globe-trotting novelist?  Fans will be pleased to know that Dorothy Koomson’s latest fictional offering, The Ice Cream Girls, is due for release in early 2010.  She has been extremely busy adding the finishing touches to what promises to be a very interesting read.  “The last three months or so of writing a book are the crescendo, for me anyway, of all the research, reading and living I’ve done for a book,” says Koomson in her online diary.  “By the time the deadline looms into view, there is nothing I could not tell you about one of my characters – even the bit players. They are my life and I become obsessed with telling their stories accurately and sympathetically. It sometimes feels as if they are sitting right beside me going, ‘No, I didn’t say it like that, I said it like this but I meant that.’ Once you reach that stage of a book – where the characters are telling you off for not representing them in their best light – I think you know that the book is almost done. Or that you need a very looooonnnngggg lie down in a darkened room.”

The Ice Cream Girls tells the story of Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe – two teenage girls who find their lives intertwined forever when they each fall in love with Marcus Halnsley, a philandering, violent school teacher.  With themes such as domestic abuse, paedophilia, rape, self-harm, suicide and murder running through this piece, it is not always a pleasant or comfortable read.  However, Koomson handles the subject matter masterfully, without over-describing the nasty details.  It is the author’s light and breezy style which makes this book so engaging, and, moreover, so accessible.  Its genius lies in Koomson’s deft ability to tell the story from the perspective of more than one character, and in the achievement of making each character feel completely different.  As the reader, you can know, after a chapter or two, who is narrating without looking at the heading of the chapter where it is indicated – Koomson’s characterisations are that comprehensible.

Koomson makes good use of pop culture references throughout this novel, helping her audience to be aware of which era the action is unfolding in.  The narrative jumps in time, from present day to the mid nineteen-eighties.  The flashbacks feature references to The A Team; Ponds Cream and Sade; the present day segments feature references to Sex and the City and He’s Just Not That Into You – all these things serve to create a real sense of both nostalgia and familiarity.  In particular, the chapter in which Serena finds her daughter reading Judy Blume’s Forever – a signifier to indicate first-time teenage love and sex – was an exceptionally nice touch, seeing as anyone who entered their teens in the eighties will remember the controversy surrounding the content of that book; it was marketed to teens and was sexually explicit.  Therefore, the inclusion of this reference was thematically tied to the back story of our protagonists, and the era in which they came of age.

This is Koomson’s first, hard-backed novel, an acknowledgement of her talent and appropriate for this, her strongest work to date. Dealing with the theme that you can never hide from your past – only confront it, The Ice Cream Girls is a thought-provoking and absorbing read.  “Writing The Ice Cream Girls has changed my views on a few things,” Koomson continues in her diary entry.  “Views I didn’t even know I held so strongly. It’s not been an easy book to write, in that the subject matter is difficult, but boy did I LOVE putting all the ideas down onto a page or 500.”

One thing is undeniable – Dorothy Koomson is passionate about writing, and appreciates every success it affords her.  “Seeing your book in the shops is a big deal,” she says.  “It’ll always be a big deal to me. And the day it stops being a big deal will be the day I’ll know I haven’t put my heart, soul and life into telling a good story.”

With dedication like that, how can she ever go wrong?

Emma Champion caught up with Dorothy Koomson to discuss growing up, relationships, and the joys of writing…

Tell us about The Ice Cream GirlsThe Ice Cream Girls is about two women who were brought together in their teens by a tragic set of circumstances that made them infamous. After years living very different lives, they are about to be reunited. They are the only people that know what really happened during the time they became infamous, but they don’t like each other and really can’t be friends. The book is also about the secrets we keep and why we keep them.

The Ice Cream Girls examines themes of love and of keeping secrets.  Have you ever kept something from a partner or loved one for fear of being judged in some way?  Are we all guilty of that to some extent, do you think?  Almost all of us want people to see us in the best possible light so it’s understandable to sometimes be tempted to omit certain things about ourselves to give that ‘best possible’ impression. If you feel you’ve acted badly or have done something wrong, you’re even more likely to be tempted to do that – especially if, like Serena in The Ice Cream Girls, you think it will end or damage an important relationship.

This will be your first hardback release.  How important is that to you and the progression of your career?  Being published in hardback in the UK is fantastic – so exciting! But then, I feel the same when any book comes out, it’s always a great moment for me. I think of my career, though, in terms of trying to write the best books possible and touching as many people as possible by showing their experiences in a realistic and honest light. In a sense, every book is a progression in my career because it is another opportunity to tell a new story.

As a novelist, how do you discipline yourself to get down to work?  What is your writing routine?  I’ve always been pretty disciplined when it comes to work. I literally just do it. I think that not only comes from being a journalist, but from writing short stories and novels that were never going to be published. I wrote them for myself so I only had me pushing me to finish them. Now that I have proper deadlines set by someone else, I try to stick to them as much as possible. If that means writing all night or setting the alarm to wake up at 3am when I’ve gone to sleep at 1am that’s generally what I’ll do. The routine is generally lots of research for a few months, while writing scenes that have come into my head, writing more and more as the deadline approaches, then staying up all night sometimes to get it done in time.

What inspires you?  Is there anything in particular which triggers your imagination?  My inspiration comes from all over the place: overhearing conversations; talking to people; having conversations pop into my head that are part of a story; sometimes from dreams. As an idea unwinds itself in my head, the characters and stories come with them. With The Ice Cream Girls, I originally had an idea about two people who were accused of a crime but one went to prison and the other ‘got away with it’. They both claim to be innocent so who is telling the truth? As I thought the idea through, more elements of the story and themes that had to be explored cropped up. I like tackling the emotions involved with a tricky subject.

You once said that you hoped living and working in Australia would help you to “grow up”.  In what ways did you feel you needed to change and has your time “down under” helped you to achieve this?  I’m always on the quest to grow up. I should probably work out what that means before trying so hard to achieve it! I suppose part of my quest is looking at other people who are sometimes younger than me and thinking they seem so ‘together’ and grown up. I’m in my late thirties but still feel twenty-something. I went to Australia because my life here seemed a bit ‘stuck’ in the sense that nothing changed. Taking time out from it was what I needed to give me the impetus to make big changes. I had a fantastic time in Australia, I learnt a lot about myself but I can’t say I feel grown up yet. Maybe when I work out what being grown up is, I’ll finally achieve it.

Which do you prefer: journalistic writing or novel writing?  I can’t distinguish between the two. Writing novels is all about making things up, but I use all my journalism skills to edit and improve whatever I write. When I was writing The Ice Cream Girls I had to cut out huge chunks that I had spent hours slaving over because they didn’t add to the story. If you can be that ruthless with your book, then you save an editor doing it and you won’t get as many notes on rewrites. I can do that because I spent so many years editing other people’s work and getting the salient details across as quickly as possible.

Of all the things that you’ve achieved, which has been the most exciting so far?  I suppose it’d have to be seeing my book on the shelves for the first time. Nothing will ever surpass that feeling, I don’t think. I still get excited every time a new book comes out, but that first time I saw The Cupid Effect on the shelves in Borders, Oxford Street, London was a moment I’ll never forget. It was the moment of realisation for all of my dreams up until that point.

If you had one piece of advice to give a budding writer looking for their big break, what would it be?  Write what you love, in other words: write a story because you believe in it and you want to tell it.  I think many, many people make the mistake of trying to write for money, or because they think they can do better than another author, or because they think it’s the type of book that will sell. They’re all valid motives for putting pen to paper, and they do work for some authors, however, it’s unlikely any of those motivations will comfort you when you start receiving rejection slips as much as knowing you’ve got a story you love and wholly believe in. Also, the sense of satisfaction of seeing a story you’re truly passionate about on the shelves is second to none.

What next for Dorothy Koomson?  What is the next chapter in your story?  I’m obviously going to be writing another novel – I’ve got three story ideas that are vying for attention at the moment. And I’m still trying to convince myself that I’m going to finish that screenplay I want to write. I’ve also got a lot of reading to catch up on, as well as co-ordinating a special project that’s very close to my heart. And let’s not forget every day life that doesn’t seem to stop when you’re extremely busy. But, I love it. I think I’d be bored if I didn’t have several important things on the go at the same time. So that’s pretty much the next few chapters in my story.

The Ice Cream Girls is due for release on the 18th of February 2010.  For all the latest Dorothy Koomson news, visit http://www.dorothykoomson.co.uk/ .

For this author and many more, visit www.chicklit.co.uk

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Article by Emma Champion: Daniel Champion releases his debut graphic novel, Wings: Chapter 2 – Superhero

 Wings cover

Back in 2007, Daniel Champion sold everything he owned – bar a few personal items – in order to pursue his dream of living in New York City.  Having spent years trying to find his place in the world, Champion knew this trip would be a welcome change-of-scene, as well a source of inspiration.  “I knew I was going out there to create something,” he says.  “That’s all I knew.”

Champion (born Daniel James Champion) was born in 1982 to parents Colin and Jan.  He grew up with his older sister Emma, and later, younger brothers Terry and Jon.  Champion was never a big reader, but found himself consistently drawn to art of a more visual nature.  “I sometimes stare at things for far too long… art, people, colours, movement,” he observes.  “I can all too easily find myself lost in my own brain.”

His strongest pursuits in school were art and photography, and later, he went on to study for a degree in architecture.  In spite of deciding that university life wasn’t for him, it was an influential time in Champion’s life which forced him to really ask himself what he wanted in life.  Having met some fellow students from the US, the seeds of ambition and fate were sewn.

Champion lived and worked in New York City for a few months.  Evidently, that short space of time was all it took to inspire a body of work that is about to change his life.

“I took pictures and made sketches,” he says.  “I didn’t know what any of it was for, just that I would use them for… something.”  That something has emerged in the form of a complex, dark, and truly fascinating planned series of graphic storybooks entitled Wings.  “Wings is… every creative idea I’ve ever had worth sharing,” Champion explains.  “It’s a story about finding the perfect version of yourself.”

Pitched as a fairytale for adults, Wings tells the story of an Angel Princess whose wings are brutally detached and stolen, and the impact that has on the unlikely band of characters whose lives become inextricably intertwined by the event.  “The layers of story in my mind are endless,” says Champion of his work.  “The trick is getting it right for other people to see… doing it justice.”

Champion plans to tell his story using a nonlinear narrative – the first book of which will be Chapter Two.  “The best place to start this story was with the character I have most in common with.  Superhero struggles with the biggest part of her life being a secret.  My secret was this story.”

Champion has a different illustrative style in mind for each of his characters, tailoring the visuals to suit each protagonist’s persona.  “I’d like to try and tell the story… of the story,” he muses, with a degree of ambiguity.  This first story in Champion’s twisted tale follows the mysterious “Superhero” on a typical night in the city which takes an unexpected turn.

The level of exquisite detail in the illustrations is astonishing.  He has cleverly utilised digital technology to integrate the photographs he took during his time in New York into the backgrounds of each original image.  This gives his work a uniquely personal touch, and serves as delicious insider-fodder for potential fan boys.  Champion conveys the emotion of the scene using colour, light and shadow.  Superhero’s signature red is present when she is at her most self-assured; from a psychological perspective, red is traditionally symbolic of confidence and power, which is indicative of Champion’s pensive approach to the material.

A promising debut.

Emma Champion caught up with the talented Wings creator to talk New York, art and self-publication…

Tell me about New York.  My spiritual home – my pallet.  New York is almost a ‘make-believe’ place, where you can be whoever you want to be… and people will accept you.  There’s an amazing sense of togetherness… we’re all here together and it’s fine.  A truly creative space and it’s in my blood forever now.

It’s clear that the city had an adverse effect on you.  What else inspires you?  Potentially anything?!  Music – Dave Matthews…well played instruments and lyrics – good lyrics. Amy Winehouse, Frank Miller, Tarantino, Shakespeare, Turner, Degas, Lost, smoking, whisky, my family, a sense of pride, my own emotions (which are extreme). I have a favourite tree…?!

Which graphic novels do you admire?  I’m not a ‘text book’ comic book collector, I have always had an interest in the artwork but, never really collected comic books… only kept hold of images, artwork and anything that found its way into my hands.  That said, I really love Civil War, truly brilliant story and artwork.

Self publication is very much en vogue at the moment.  What made you decide to take that route?  I wanted to ‘own myself’ and be in control.   I will never compromise my vision for this story.

What are the benefits of self publication compared to pitching to an established publisher?  Owning the right to tell the story as it should be told… I guess.

Where did you get the idea for WingsIt started as a story called A Pirate and a Cowboy, in 2004, when I was living in Beckenham in Kent.  It evolved in my mind over years and never went away.
I guess the idea stemmed from all the different parts of me… and all the different parts of my ideal woman.  It’s heavily influenced by the things I love and… as most of the story was written in New York, I guess the people around me at the time had an effect on me too.  My ideas come from songs, feelings, people, conversations, dreams… I really listen to my own thoughts.

I get the impression that Superhero is a character who has really gotten under your skin…  Yes – I’ve got a lot in common with Superhero.  I see her as a female version of me.  

What can we expect from future instalments in the series?  Something different every time hopefully, a visual feast and, bit-by-bit, a revealing story which WILL make sense to the reader one day… I hope.

Chapter Two of Wings is available to buy now from www.authorhouse.co.uk

For this author and many more, visit www.chicklit.co.uk  

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http://science-fiction-books.com.au/media/ccp0/prodlg/Wings-Chapter-2-Superhero-Daniel-Ch18-med.jpg

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

 

Image sourced at:

http://uk.eonline.com/eol_images/Entire_Site/2010724/425.avatar.lr.082410.jpg

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

 

Image sourced at:

http://images.starpulse.com/Photos/Previews/Twilight-New-Moon-movie-08.jpg

Film Review by Emma Champion: Harry Brown (2009) – starring Michael Caine

Harry Brown

Michael Caine is, arguably, Britain’s highest commodity when it comes to character actors.  With an illustrious career that has spanned five decades and is still going strong, at age 72, the man knows no bounds.  What is utterly bewildering above all of this, however, is his ability to push beyond his own boundaries, challenging himself still at this late stage in the game.  Not content with resting on his laurels and playing the easy, more obvious roles, Caine still has the courage to opt for a challenge.  Perhaps that’s the secret behind the longevity of his career.  Like he recently told Total Film magazine, “I remember saying, rather wisely, on one of my first interviews, that my greatest talent was survival.”

Survival is, of course, the very skill Caine’s latest character is forced to perfect.  Harry Brown (2009) paints a very dark and all-too-real picture of street culture in twenty-first century London, and the affects it has on those caught in the crossfire – quite literally at times.  Harry (Michael Caine) lives on a run-down estate in suburban London.  When his wife passes away following a long bout of illness, Harry’s only remaining friend is his pub-buddy and chess partner, Leonard (Harry Potter’s David Bradley).  Following a confession from Leonard that he is being terrorised by a gang of local youths, the police arrive at Harry’s door to inform him of Leonard’s death – the result of a brutal attack.  Harry could never have known how he would react to this news, nor could he have predicted the action he would be forced to take…

Harry Brown is an exception piece of film making.  Director Daniel Barber has outdone himself with this, his debut full-length feature.  He chooses to open his movie with handheld camera footage of what is essentially a drive-by shooting, which has a high impact and stark contrast to the stillness of the scenes that follow.  Therein lays Barber’s genius – his ability to balance his film with equal measures of chaos and calm.  He has delivered a film which feels relevant and contemporary, as well as classic and smart.

The film, however, belongs to Michael Caine.  His delicate, maintained and slow-building portrayal of Harry is a veritable education for anyone in any doubt about “how it’s done”.  The opening credits declare that “Michael Caine is Harry Brown”, and he is, with every fibre of his being, and every ounce of his experience and talent.  Look out for the scene near the beginning when Harry is stood doing his dishes.  Caine has an uncanny knack for injecting magic into the most mundane of actions.  His character moves along an unlikely arc, which sees his Harry transform from defeated old man to take-charge vigilante.  On paper, a man of seventy-odd waving a gun around and giving those pesky hoodies what-for might read as ridiculous.  Caine makes it plausible, believable, and genuine.

This film might not be everyone’s cup-of-tea (cover your ears during the police interrogation scenes if you’re easily offended), but that in no way detracts from the fact that this is slick, savvy and street-smart.  Many have referred to this as a reactionary piece, in light of the rise in gang culture and gun/knife-related crime.  If that is the case, then the consensus is unmistakable – we as a society want rid, and, along with Harry, we’ll fight it all the way.

Highly recommended.

 

Emma Champion

 

 

Image sourced at:

http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2009/10/6/1254819517104/Michael-Caine-in-Harry-Br-001.jpg

Film Review by Emma Champion: The Fourth Kind (2009) – starring Milla Jojovich

Milla Jojovich might just be the ultimate in metaphorical Marmite.  People either love her backlog, or hate it.  Personally, I have to opt for the latter, with turkeys such as the abysmal Ultraviolet (2006), the Resident Evil trilogy (2002-2007) and Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991) on her CV.  However, one must note that she does occasionally get it right, with star turns in films such as The Fifth Element (1998), The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) and Zoolander (2001).

Thankfully for all of us, Ms. Jojovich has got it right this time; her latest offering a chilling and disturbing account of one woman’s determination to uncover the ugly truth in a remote Alaskan town – namely The Fourth Kind (2009).

Jojovich plays Dr Abbey Tyler, a psychologist who quickly discovers that many of her patients are experiencing the same hallucination – an owl at their window at night, followed by a presence in the room and fear beyond measure.  When these patients begin to exhibit symptoms of extreme mental instability, Dr Tyler’s credibility comes into question, especially since her husband was killed mysteriously as he slept beside her a few years earlier.  However, when Dr Tyler is regressed by her close friend Abel (the always-watchable Elias Koteas), it becomes apparent that the owl may have paid her a visit or two also…

This film’s strength lies in its unique format – an ingenious use of split screen to depict not only the dramatized action, but also to simultaneously display what director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, claims to be “real footage” of the therapy sessions on which the film’s narrative is based.  In a move not often seen in cinema, Jojovich herself announces at the beginning that she will be playing the role of Dr Tyler and warns that some may find the “actual” footage disturbing; this creates a theatrical, almost Brechtian experience for the audience – one which creates distance between you and the film, and causes you to buy into the validity of the footage from the offset.  Look for the scene in which a desperate Tommy (Corey Johnson) holds his wife and children at gunpoint, whilst “real” footage playing adjacent to the action shows the supposed “actual” event unfold, as caught on the cameras of police cars parked outside the family’s home;  simply stunning.

And so, we are drawn into an inner conflict – one which has us wondering exactly how “real” this footage actually is.  In addition to this, the film is laced with “real” audio – panicked 911 calls to the local Sheriff’s office, for example – the most spine-tingling of which is the voice of the intruder, who speaks in an ancient Sumarian dialect, much to the fascination of Dr Awolowa Odusami (Hakeem Kae Kazeem), an expert called in to assist.

Fans of horror and science-fiction alike will be drawn to this truly original effort, which, by all accounts, was made on a shoe-string budget was lots of love and tender care.  It is my belief that the “real” footage is the product of a very clever, Blair Witch-esque viral campaign, set up as far back as August on the internet to convince potential viewers of this picture that what they are about to witness is true.  If this is the case, Olatunde Osunsanmi is a very shrewd filmmaker indeed, placing himself in the same illustrious category as the likes of M. Night Shyamalan and JJ Abrams.

This piece builds tension and toys with convention in ways not seen in cinema for a long, long time.   Osunsanmi plays into the audience’s fascination with reality television and asks us all to question how much of what we see we can believe.  Real or not, this film is executed with a degree of sheer perfection, and achieves the desired effect – that of pure terror.

Recommended to all who are brave enough to take a look.

Emma Champion

 

 

Image sourced at:

http://www.starmoviesasia.tv/App_Files/Microsites/Main/1096.jpg

Film Review by Emma Champion: Couples Retreat (2009) – starring Vince Vaughn

Vince Vaughn has, for a long time now, fancied himself as a hard-hitter in the movie biz.  He has tried his hand at the serious acting – Return to Paradise (1998), The Lost World (1997) – reinvented himself as a comedy king – Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), Wedding Crashers (2005) – and dated A-Listers – Jennifer Aniston (2006).  Lol.

Now he has turned his hand to producing.  Starting with Made (2001), Vaughn has now produced six movies, all of which he has starred in, and two of them were penned by the man himself also.  It is a veritable barrage of talent he is sending our way on paper…so why isn’t any of that translating to screen?

Couples Retreat (2009) is Vaughn’s latest offering, and co-stars his multiple-collaborator Jon Favreau (or “Fav” as he is referred to by Hollywood-insider types).  It tells the story of a couple heading for divorce that see an opportunity to enter into a relationship therapy/island retreat hybrid programme, which they can only afford if their friends – three additional couples – come along for the ride.  Of course, unforeseen hyjinks ensue, and raucous laughter is enjoyed by all.

Or so you would think.  Like Vaughn himself, this movie is good on paper, but in reality is something else entirely.  The gags seem obvious and misfire repeatedly as a result – the little boy going number one and two in a bathroom outlet showroom (Jackass: The Movie (2002) anyone?), the sexually explicit yoga instructor, and the degradation of Léon (1994) star, Jean Reno as the quirky, new age therapist, Marcel.

The film is also laced with plenty of cringe-worthy pointlessness.  The shark-infested waters of the Eden resort bring nothing to the narrative; neither does the strange video game segment at the movie’s mid-way point.  Any film which feels it has to feature a Guitar Hero battle, using split screen and neon graphics for emphasis, has surely lost its way?

There are, however, laughs to be had.  You will find yourself riddled with guilty amusement when their holiday rep introduces himself as “Sctanley – spelled with a ‘C’”; at Dave’s “asstastic” alarm code; and at any scene which features the fantastic Jason Bateman – the film’s one saving grace.

Every once in a while, all you want out of a trip to the cinema is to watch something that doesn’t require a lot of thought; where one’s brain can happily switch off for a couple of hours and gently dribble soggily out of one’s ear.  This is one of those movies.  Fans of Vaughn’s work will be charmed by this piece, as well as anyone who appreciates the film’s core message; which is that couples can become so embroiled in the daily grind that they forget who they are and why they came together in the first place, and the importance of reconnecting with one’s partner.  Admirable as that is, the delivery of the message is not as dignified as the message itself.

A fair effort – approach with caution, and very little expectation.

 

Emma Champion

 

Image sourced at:

http://brandonfibbs.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/couples.jpg