Monday, January 31, 2011

Sundance USA films screen in Ann Arbor

The citizens of Ann Arbor were treated to not one, but two Sundance films this past weekend, January 27 and 28. Out of the nine cities around the country selected to host a Sundance film, Ann Arbor was the only city selected to host two, and this was because the second film, “Cedar Rapids,” was filmed on-location in Ann Arbor. The other cities selected to host films, all on January 27, were Brookline, MA; Brooklyn, NY; San Francisco; Seattle; Chicago; Los Angeles; Madison, WI; and Nashville, and different films were shown at each location. “Cedar Rapids” was shown in Seattle on the 27th and then the director, Miguel Arteta, who had previously directed “Youth in Revolt” in Ann Arbor, flew to Michigan for the premiere.

“Win Win” was shown the night of the 27th at the Michigan Theater to a packed audience. The movie tells the story about Mike Flaherty, a lawyer who also doubles as a high school wrestling coach, and the lead role is played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti and director Tom McCarthy were originally scheduled to do a Q&A, but neither was able to make it. “You know, winning a Golden Globe really messes with your schedule …” Russ Collins, the Executive Director of the Michigan Theater, joked, referring to Giamatti’s recent Golden Globe win for Best Actor for his role in the movie “Barney’s Version.” However, one of the movie’s producers, Mary Jane Skalski, who is a U of M grad and Michigan native, was in attendance.

“The role of the producer involves looking for the money, making sure that everything gets there on the day, that people have a place to eat, etcetera …” Skalski said, when asked what her role entails.

Poster for "Win Win," from
Fox Searchlight
On the movie, which involves Giamatti as wrestling coach and a lawyer, she said that she “knew nothing about wrestling. Tom said ‘we really need a wrestler,’ because someone’s not going to be able to fake that. It will be easier to teach a wrestler how to act than to teach an actor how to wrestle.”

All of the kids in the movie are wrestlers, and Alex Shaffer, who plays the lead character, a boy that Giamatti and his wife take in, actually “became the New Jersey state wrestling champ at 119 pounds AND got the role in the movie, all in the same week,” said Skalski.

Paul Giamatti was the first choice for the lead role, as both he and Tom McCarthy attended Yale together for grad school, and they were already friends and wanted to make a movie together.

“Tom is really collaborative and pretty intimate. He’s rehearsing before we even start shooting. I kind of compare him to a tailor – he fine-tunes things,” Skalski said.

Director Miguel Arteta (right) with the mayor
of Ann Arbor, Ron Hieftje (left), and the
mayor of Cedar Rapids, Ron. J. Corbett (right)
The second night of Sundance USA was just as packed as the first, and the feature film “Cedar Rapids” was shown to a crowd of more than 1,600 people (Michigan Theater’s capacity is 1,700). “Cedar Rapids” follows a na├»ve insurance salesman as he’s sent to the “big city” from his small hometown in Wisconsin to go to an insurance conference, and it is about the people he meets there and the lessons he later learns. Miguel Arteta, the director, was on hand for the event, and he did a Q&A session after the film as well as a “meet the press” event beforehand, which I was able to attend.

Everyone’s biggest question, of course, was why Arteta chose to film in Ann Arbor.

“Iowa’s incentive program went belly-up. We needed a hotel with a pool in the middle of it and it turns out that Michigan has the most number of these,” he said. “This is my 2nd film shot in Ann Arbor, and I love it here.”

The cast and crew prepped for eight weeks in Iowa and then only four in Michigan. The film was screened in Park City, Utah, as part of the official Sundance program recently as well.

“In Park City, we were very nervous, since we had never screened in front of a large audience. We are very much indebted to Sundance,” Arteta explained. “The film screened in Seattle last night as well, and they liked it very much, I think.”

At the Q&A after the movie, Arteta thanked the audience, saying that “there are 1,700 people here tonight and this is the largest audience at one time that I will ever have. You are the fourth audience in the country to see the movie.”

Director Miguel Arteta's Q&A after the screening
Many of the Michigan-based extras who were in the movie were at the Michigan Theater, and they stood up to applause when Arteta asked them to. He joked, “I loved all the Michigan extras. I didn’t know at times if we were at a convention or making a movie – it was confusing!”

Russ Collins added that he “can tell [you] that the buzz at Sundance for the movie was very high – I was walking around hearing people talk about [Cedar Rapids].”

Arteta later talked about three of the main characters, played by John C. Reilly, Ed Helms, and Isiah Whitlock. He said that Reilly is a very big improviser, which made the movie fun, and that Arteta “loves that the movie is about such an innocent character.” (referring to Ed Helms’s role)

“Ed reminds me of Jack Lemmon – he’s very sweet, very funny. Him and John C. Reilly are very funny together,” he said.

As for the two movies themselves, I can’t divulge specifics, but I enjoyed both of them very much, in different ways. “Cedar Rapids” is probably one of the most bizarre movies I’ve seen lately, but in a good way - it reminded me of a combination of “The Hangover,” which Helms was also in, and “The Forty Year Old Virgin” - and “Win Win” was a lot funnier that I thought it would be. If you like comedies, I would recommend seeing both of these films when they are released in theaters.

“Win Win” will be out in theaters in mid-March, and “Cedar Rapids” will be out in limited release on February 11th and in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas in late February or early March.

*To see more pictures and coverage of the event, check out my article at FORMzine.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

SAG Awards predictions

I've written about the Golden Globes, CCAs, BAFTAs, and the Oscars on here, but it seems I've neglected a "little awards show" called the Screen Actors Guild awards, which will be airing tomorrow night at 8pm EST on TBS.

Here are the nominees for the major film categories, and my picks, which are in italics ... I'll even try my hand at the TV categories:

Jesse Eisenberg, from "The Social Network"
Male Actor, Leading
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 hours

~This could be interesting, as Robert Duvall has not been nominated with the others in this category for "Get Low" before. Eisenberg or Bridges may stage an upset, but Firth has been winning awards left and right for his performance in "The King's Speech," so I'm going to stick with him for the win.

Natalie Portman, in
"Black Swan"
Female Actor, Leading
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Hilary Swank, Conviction

~The surprise: Hilary Swank. She was good in "Conviction," but I'm thinking Portman will win yet another award for her incredible "Black Swan" performance.

Male Actor, Supporting
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Jon Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

~Christian Bale, no question about it. I haven't seen "Winter's Bone," and the other actors nominated here were all great, but his acting in "The Fighter" was very, very good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar surprises, snubs

The Oscar nominations were announced at 8:30 A.M. EST yesterday, and by now we've all seen the list of nominees. Here were some things I found surprising about this year's noms.

  • No Ryan Gosling, for Best Actor for his role in "Blue Valentine." I didn't particularly like the movie itself, but I thought both he and Michelle Williams (who did get a nod for Best Actress) were great in it.
  • No Christopher Nolan, for Best Director ("Inception")
  • No Andrew Garfield, for Best Supporting Actor ("The Social Network"). I had a feeling this was going to happen but I still am not happy about it.
  • "Despicable Me" was snubbed in the Animated Film category. No love for the minions? Meanwhile, "Toy Story 3" made it into both the Animated Film AND Best Picture categories.
  • No nomination for Mark Wahlberg, for Best Actor in "The Fighter." Christian Bale outshined everyone in that movie, but Mark's performance was still good, and had been recognized with nominations by the Critics Choice Awards and Golden Globes previously.

Pleasant surprises:
  • Michelle Williams, nominated for Best Actress, though we all know Natalie Portman will win for "Black Swan" (most likely).
  • Hailee Steinfeld, nominated for Best Actress for "True Grit," which probably made that 14-year-old's day when she found out. "True Grit" was widely snubbed at the Golden Globes (no nominations at ALL) but the Academy gave it its due.
  • Another "True Grit" nominee - Jeff Bridges, for Best Actor.
  • Jeremy Renner is nominated for Best Actor, "The Town" - and I think that was the only nom for that movie, too.
  • "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" got a nomination for Visual Effects.
To what other movies or actors did you feel the Academy should have given a nomination? Sound off in the comments.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The Mechanic"

"The Mechanic" really should have been titled "The Mechanic's Apprentice," as the main character takes on an "intern," of sorts, who he then trains to be a hit man like himself. I was excited to see this movie because Jason Statham is headlining it, and I definitely wasn't disappointed by it.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham, "The Expendables") is a hit man, or a "mechanic" as some call him, and he has a somewhat amiable relationship with his employer, Dean (Tony Goldwyn, "The Last House on the Left"). When Dean asks him to kill his good friend Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland, "The Con Artist"), he says that Harry has betrayed the organization, and so Dean obliges. Harry's son, Steve (Ben Foster, "Here"), comes to Arthur after his father's death and asks him to train him to be a hit man; Arthur agrees, and they soon become a team, although some of Steve's methods aren't as effective as Arthur's. When Arthur finds out a crucial detail about why a hit was put on Harry, however, he decides to turn against Dean, and he and Steve team up to take him down.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Blue Valentine"

I actually paid to see "Blue Valentine" (gasp) because I had heard it had very good reviews (it currently has an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and I thought it would be one of those "life changing" movies that stick with you long after the credits roll. However, I was a little disappointed by the film, partially because it moves very slowly.

Dean (Ryan Gosling, "All Good Things") and Cindy (Michelle Williams, "Shutter Island") have been married for about 5 years and have a child together. Their married life, however, is not going so well, and although Dean halfheartedly tries to revive it (in one scene, they go to a shady motel for the night), eventually Cindy can't stand to be around him anymore, for reasons including his temper and tendency to drink. What is interesting about this film, however, is that we see them in their past incarnations throughout as well: as they meet each other, date, and eventually marry.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BAFTA nominees announced today

The BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nominees were announced today, according to their website.

And the nominees for the major awards are:
(my choices for the winners are in italics)

Best Film:
-Black Swan
-The Social Network
-The King's Speech
-True Grit

Outstanding British Film:
-127 Hours
-Another Year
-Four Lions
-The King's Speech
-Made in Dagenham

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer:
-The Arbor
-Exit Through the Gift Shop
-Four Lions

~I haven't seen any of these but have heard good things about Banksy's "Exit Through the Gift Shop."

-127 Hours - Danny Boyle
-Black Swan - Darren Aronofsky
-Inception - Christopher Nolan
-The King's Speech - Tom Hooper
-The Social Network - David Fincher

Monday, January 17, 2011

Golden Globes vs. Critics Choice Awards: Recap and winners

I have never watched the Critics Choice Awards before, but they aired Friday on VH1, and since the Golden Globes were coming up on Sunday, I figured that it might be interesting to get a "sneak peek" of what was to come on the Golden Globes. What was interesting, however, was that the actors and actresses who won Critics Choice Awards ended up being almost the exact same to the ones who won Golden Globes yesterday.

Some observations:
  • The Critics Choice Awards have a few categories that the Globes do not - Best Young Actor/Actress (Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"), Best Acting Ensemble (The Fighter), Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay (they separate it into two categories), and the Music + Film Award (Quentin Tarantino).
  • The CCAs also don't separate the acting categories by comedy and drama; therefore, for Best Actress, Annette Bening ("The Kids are All Right") was competing against Natalie Portman ("Black Swan,") with Portman winning the award.
  • With the exception of a few minor awards like Best Mini-series/movie made for television, the winners of the CCAs were eerily similar to the winners of the Golden Globes. My only surprise was that Paul Giamatti won Best Actor - Comedy or Musical for "Barney's Version," a movie that has yet to be released here in Michigan, and The Social Network beat out Inception, who won the CCA for Best Action Film, although that really wasn't that big of a surprise.
  • "True Grit" got completely passed over for any Golden Globe nominations, as was Leonardo DiCaprio for "Inception" (Best Actor). It will be interesting to see if the Oscars pass them over as well.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"So Undercover" filming in New Orleans

The feature film "So Undercover," with Miley Cyrus and Kelly Osbourne, is currently filming at Tulane University in New Orleans. My friend Cassie took these photos, of trees that were covered in pink blossoms; she thought they were real when she first saw them because "they were taped onto bare branches on those trees. You couldn't really see the tape - it was very interesting."

Fake blossoms on the "So Undercover" set in New Orleans -
don't they look real?

IMDB lists a description of the film as "A tough, street-smart private eye is hired by the FBI to go undercover in a college sorority." Cyrus will play the P.I., and Osbourne is her sorority roommate. Jeremy Piven also stars as a special agent. It is being directed by Tom Vaughan, who also directed "Extraordinary Measures" (2010) and "What Happens in Vegas" (2008). According to, Miley's mom, Trish Cyrus, will be co-producer.

The set, at Tulane University in New Orleans

Thanks to Cassie Jeng for the pictures and tree information!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Green Hornet"

"The Green Hornet" used to be a radio show many years ago, and it was also a short-lived TV series starring Bruce Lee. This is the first movie adaptation of it, however, and with Seth Rogen as the title character I thought it would have a good combination of humor and action. Unfortunately not: there only a few choice action scenes, and far too little comedy.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen, "Observe and Report") is a spoiled party boy whose father owns the Daily Herald, a newspaper in Los Angeles. When his father passes away from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt inherits his father's gigantic house, all of its employees, and, of course, the newspaper. When he fires most of the employees and then wakes up one morning to find that his coffee has been made poorly, he demands to know who usually makes his coffee, and finds that it is Kato (musician Jay Chou, "True Legend"), who also has been maintaining and upgrading the bevy of luxury cars that sit in his father's garage. Kato is re-hired and he and Britt soon embark on their adventures as crime-fighters; however, they decide to confuse the city and police into thinking that they are the "bad guys," and soon both the police AND the "real" bad guys are after them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Season of the Witch"

The trailer for this film makes it look like it's going to be a good action film, set in the 13th and 14th centuries. However, beware - it ended up being more of a horror film than action, although we get plenty of action as well. It also should have been rated "R" instead of "PG-13," in my opinion, as there is a ton of gore and scary elements present.

Behmen (Nicolas Cage, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") and his friend Felson (Ron Perlman, TV's "Sons of Anarchy") have just deserted the army during the Crusades and are looking for provisions in a small town when they are arrested. The town has been infested by the Plague, and the church officials have determined it is the Black Witch (newcomer Claire Foy) who has brought it upon them. The leader of the town, currently dying of the Plague, offers Behmen a deal: if they bring the Black Witch to the monks at a monastery many leagues away, they will be absolved of their crimes and will be free men. Behmen and Felson take him up on their offer, with the provision that the witch will get a fair trial by the monks, and it is then that their journey begins.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"No Strings Attached"

"No Strings Attached" is one of two movies coming out this year that look very similar to each other. The second, "Friends with Benefits," arrives in late July, and stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Personally, I thought Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher would make the better pair in "No Strings Attached", and they did have good chemistry; however, the film started off strong and then dwindled off until the laughs were no longer as funny.

Normally, it's the girl in the relationship who might be clingy. In the case of Adam (Ashton Kutcher, "Killers") and Emma (Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"), who first meet as teenagers at summer camp, it is actually Adam who wants to move things further. They agree at the beginning of the film, however, to be "sex friends," or "friends with benefits." Emma works 80 hours a week as a resident at a nearby hospital, so she doesn't have time for such frivolities as relationships - or so she says. Adam is an assistant on a major TV show, and is constantly living in the shadow of his father, a former hit TV star who is still recognized on the street today. So the arrangement is perfect for both of them - right? It is at first, but then Adam starts wanting something more.