Browsing Tag



I still have to see many more awards contenders, but Silver Linings Playbook is an early favorite. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, charming, moving, wacky, and…well, you’ll have to see for yourself.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar former teacher newly released from a court-ordered stay at a psychiatric facility, eight months after an incident had made him turn violent. He moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), determined to rebuild his life and win back his wife, Nikki, despite everyone telling him she’s moved on.

He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose cop husband recently died, and rumor has it she’s dealing with her grief by turning into the town slut. Their lack of social skills and edit buttons make others wary, but the two form a tenuous bond that lead to surprising discoveries about themselves.

The biggest surprise for me was finding that Cooper could act. I’ve never been a fan because I’ve never been able to sympathize with any of his characters (this includes Will on Alias). Not only is he sympathetic here, he takes on mental illness, one of the two hardest conditions to portray convincingly—the other is drunkenness—because the inclination is to overdo it.

But Pat desperately wants to show how well he’s coping post-treatment so Cooper suppresses the crazies, keeping his character grounded while allowing us to see that the cracks are right beneath the surface and could reappear any moment. Pat is not so much unhinged as someone who’s passionate and idealistic and doesn’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way.

Lawrence is even more impressive as the only person who does understand Pat. She has never been more alluring and self-assured than she is here. She goes toe to toe with De Niro in one scene and comes out on top (it’s written that way but still takes a skilled thespian to pull it off). She’s not a girl but a woman on fire; this is a mature, full-blooded performance from a young actress who keeps getting better. I think a long career is ahead of her if she wants it, and an Oscar nomination is almost certain for this role.

In adapting Matthew Quick’s novel, director-writer David O. Russell, a gifted but inconsistent auteur, has crafted his most mainstream, uplifting movie yet. Among its pleasures is its unpredictability. The story takes odd turns, making me ask at times, “Where is this going?” and “How did we get here?” The answer is by Russell throwing out the playbook of Hollywood cliches.

Nerd verdict: Silver Linings has a shot at Oscar gold

Photos: The Weinstein Company


ANNA KARENINA Review + Notes from Q&A with Joe Wright & Keira Knightley

I attended a Variety screening Monday night of Anna Karenina, and stayed afterward for the Q&A with director Joe Wright and Keira Knightley. It’s the kind of movie that benefits from such a chat.

For the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel about a married woman who falls in love with another man and is destroyed by her affair, Wright and company decided to take the highly stylized, theatrical route, placing many of the scenes on an actual stage with props and matte paintings in the background, revealed by velvet curtains. Everything is heightened, and how much you like it will depend on how willing you are to forgo realism. If you’re a Baz Luhrmann fan, you’ll probably love this.

I respect Wright for undertaking this bold experiment, and parts of it are engaging. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) and Keira Knightley, in opulent costumes, have potent chemistry as Anna and Count Vronsky, making us yearn for them to be together almost as much as they do. Jude Law needed to be dumbed down quite a bit to play the dull, cuckholded Karenin, but his subtle performance is convincing and sympathetic.

Wright is clever in using the stage setting to convey the idea of a much bigger space, and to transition between scenes. Anna goes from a ballroom to her home by simply climbing a set of stairs. She sits down in a chair in her drawing room, but parts the curtains and the scenery outside indicates she’s on a moving train. Because of the stylization, punctuated by a rhythmic score, the actors’ movements—Knightley’s most of all—are precisely choreographed, but the cast makes the “dance” look like second nature, performing what Wright calls “a ballet with words.”

The energy can’t be sustained, though, and once the passion cools between Anna and Vronsky, I started to lose interest in the movie.

After the screening, the director explained that he was trying to get closer to “the expressive interior landscape of the characters” and felt he couldn’t do it with realism. Setting most of the action on an actual stage seemed appropriate, since Russian society at the time “was performing their lives…they wanted to be French.” The people spoke French, wore French fashion, so when Anna gets up in the morning, Wright shows her getting dressed like an actress about to step in front of the footlights.

During the Q&A, Knightley came across smart, funny, articulate, and passionate in her defense of Anna. When the moderator asked how the actress approached playing a character some readers find loathsome, Knightley said, “I didn’t like her. I loved her.” She explained that she’s in no position to judge a woman who’s flawed by her humanity, who hurts those she loves most, because Knightley herself is sometimes guilty of such behavior. She added, “How can you not feel for a creature who’s suffering?”

Wrights wrapped up the evening by admitting this movie is an experiment, saying “filmmakers have an obligation to experiment.” It may not have been a complete success, but I appreciate Wright and his team giving the text a daring new interpretation.

Nerd verdict: A bold—if not entirely successful—experiment

Photos: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features


Movie Discussion: SKYFALL

The AFI Fest started last week (wrapping up today) and for the third year, I’ve been attending as a press member. Last night was the annual “Secret Screening,” revealed at the last minute as Skyfall. Guess who fell out of her chair when she read that announcement?

Mr. PCN and I hustled down to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and following are our reactions to the 23rd James Bond movie, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Naomie Harris. The spoiler-free plotline is that things get personal for M.

Mr. PCN: I love the title sequence. Reminds me no one else does it like that.

PCN: It was gorgeous and hypnotic. I can’t hum Adele’s tune, though.

Mr. PCN: As with most Bond movies, the opening action was awesome.

PCN: It was intense. Love how the audience cheered when he first appeared.

Mr. PCN: Craig is wonderful, but he looks a little more beat-up than usual. It makes sense in context of the plot, but was still startling.

PCN: Like you said, he had to look like that, considering all that happens to him in just the first fifteen minutes. Makes him more human. But then he puts on those Tom Ford suits and all is right with the world again. I was obsessed with those suits! They could cut you, they were so sharp. They fit him so well, in silhouette he looked naked.

Mr. PCN: *rolls eyes*

PCN: These are astute observations. Costumes are an important part of cinema.

Mr. PCN: Uh-huh. Moving on to Bardem. It’s no surprise he shines as the villain. His performance is flawless, and the flirtation scene between him and Bond is hilarious.

PCN: Bardem is mesmerizing. He’s so unpredictable; I could never tell when he was going to smile at someone or kill them. He doesn’t overdo the villainy, but instead exudes charm and humor, which makes him even scarier, a la Hannibal Lecter. And his introduction via that one long take in which he does the monologue while walking slowly toward the camera is well done. What’s with him and ugly character hairdos, though?

Mr. PCN: Ha! What I want to know is: Why is Bérénice Marlohe getting so much press when her Sévérine is so underwhelming?

PCN: I agree. Naomie Harris, though, is sexy because she’s smart and competent.

Mr. PCN: She’s more of a driving force. Q is bit of a conundrum. He’s not as fun as John Cleese or Desmond Llewelyn. And Q’s gotta have fun with Bond and his gadgets.

PCN: And he’s not that smart. Makes mistakes, and is kind of slow to realize things that seem obvious to viewers. Not Ben Whishaw’s fault, though, more the way the role was written. What did you think of the action sequences?

Mr. PCN: The opening train-and-crane is the best.

PCN: Yeah. Supposedly, most of the stunts were real, not CGI’d. Craig had to fight on a moving train, tethered to a safety line, and told not to look down.

Mr. PCN: Komodo dragon was good, too. Short and snappy.

PCN: The Shanghai fight was nicely shot, against the neon lights and shadows.

Mr. PCN: But it was kind of confusing.

PCN: Yes! I wish some of the fights were filmed in two-shots so we could see the choreography more. As is, there are a lot of fast cuts and closeups. I couldn’t see the moves or tell what was going on sometimes.

Mr. PCN: I enjoyed the nods to early Bond films, like the Aston Martin DB5.

PCN: With the original plate from Goldfinger! And when Q gives Bond simple gadgets and says, “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”

Mr. PCN: I don’t think this breaks any new ground, but harkens back to vintage Bond.

PCN: I think it’s both old and new. Several important elements were reinvented, but with reverence to what’s gone before.

Verdicts: Mr. PCN—Skyfall floats, but doesn’t rise; PCN–Skyfall‘s a solid soldier

Note: Besides the AFI Fest, the Variety Screening Series has also begun. Check back soon for reviews of Anna Karenina, Hitchcock, Silver Linings Playbook, and Life of Pi.

Photos: Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures



This Friday, Oct. 5, Pitch Perfect will open wide, and Butter will be in limited release and available as VOD. They both feature highly competitive people attempting to win a title, and both made me laugh quite a few times.


I saw Butter last year at the AFI Fest (which runs Nov. 1-8 this year), where a beautiful, pregnant Jennifer Garner introduced the film. She plays a politically ambitious woman determined to win a butter-carving competition against a black child prodigy. The movie’s release was apparently held until now to take advantage of the election season, because Garner’s Laura Pickler has shades of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin (the actress has said in interviews that’s not intentional).

Garner’s performance is unlike her others that I’ve seen. The actress commits to the character’s uptight, ruthless nature, saying ridiculous things with a straight face, and playing dirty against a little girl—an orphan, no less. It’s clear Garner had lots of fun in the role. Ty Burrell and Olivia Wilde, as a bicycle-riding stripper, also got laughs, as well as Hugh Jackman as a moronic car salesman. Newcomer Yara Shahidi is the heart of the film as the child, Destiny, who at one point carves something surprisingly poignant.

Nerd verdict: Salty and sweet Butter

Pitch Perfect

Based on Mitch Rapkin’s nonfiction book of the same name, this fictional look inside the cutthroat world of collegiate a capella competitions has “sleeper hit” written all over it. The story follows the Barden Bellas, an all-girls group, as they try to redeem themselves at the finals in Lincoln Center a year after a disastrous performance there. The ragtag group contains members of dubious talent, including one who has an inaudible speaking voice, one unwilling to go along with the choreographed routines, and another who calls herself “Fat Amy” and “aca-awesome.”

You may have seen Rebel Wilson in Bridesmaids, but you may not have remembered her name. I have a feeling everyone will soon know it because she takes control of Pitch Perfect as Fat Amy and doesn’t let go. Her confidence cannot be denied. Anna Kendrick impresses as Beca, an alt-girl who just wants to go to L.A. and produce music. Beca’s pseudo-sullenness can’t disguise Kendrick’s natural charm, and she can really sing.

The musical performances are rousing, director Jason Moore (Avenue Q) keeps things moving at a nice rhythm, and as soon as John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also produced) show up as commentators, you’ll probably start chuckling just anticipating the inappropriate things they’ll say. They don’t disappoint.

Nerd verdict: Perfectly entertaining

Photos: Butter/The Weinstein Co., Pitch Perfect/Universal


Movie Review: PROMETHEUS

It’s not such a big secret anymore, but during production, Ridley Scott and the creative team behind Prometheus (out Friday, June 8th) were very coy about whether or not this was an Alien prequel. Well, it takes place before the events in Scott’s 1979 classic, shares certain elements, and has a thread that leads to Alien. So, yes, I’d say it’s a prequel.

Marshall-Green, Rapace, Fassbender

Other than that, I’ll be vague about plot points so as not to spoil anything, because things do get pretty wild. In 2089, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find evidence via cave drawings that extraterrestrials visited Earth a long time ago. They determine that these beings came from a planet in a far-away solar system, and manage to get wealthy Peter Weyland and his Weyland Industries to fund an expedition on a space ship called Prometheus to investigate the origins of man. The journey takes two years, during which the travelers are in hypersleep, and most of the movie’s action unfolds in 2093, upon their arrival on planet Zeta 2 Reticuli. Of course, the environment (impressively rendered in 3D) is not what they expected, and bad things start befalling them.

It’s exciting to see Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander, in her first lead Hollywood role, though for the first half of the movie, she doesn’t get to really bust out and show her acting or action chops. And then she gets this one scene that’s so horrific and unconventionally badass that I thought, “OK, that’s probably one of the reasons Scott hired her.” She does something I’d never seen done on screen, and it requires someone who can convince us she’s tough enough to handle it. I’m still cringing just thinking about it.

Fassbender is the other highlight, playing the ship’s robot, David, with a mechanical smile and friendly demeanor that perhaps masks something darker underneath (though I don’t understand the motivation behind some of his actions since robots aren’t supposed to want things or think for themselves). The actor continues to impress, with his wide array of roles that are vastly different from each other. Charlize Theron, as the onboard Weyland rep, uses her icy blondness effectively. And British actor Idris Elba, as the ship’s genial captain, surprises by speaking in a Southern drawl.

The movie is melancholy in some parts, and while Elizabeth’s belief in creationism is emphasized in the beginning, the theory of how we came about gets a little murky once hell breaks loose. It’s as if screenwriters Damon Lindelof and John Spaihts wanted to ask deep, philosophical questions, but they also wanted to make us jump with scary monster stuff. In the end there are some questions left dangling, including whether what we see here is consistent with what we already know about the aliens, but since there are almost thirty years between the end of this and the beginning of Alien, it’s possible this won’t be the only prequel.

Nerd verdict: Familiar Alien territory

Photos: Kerry Brown/20th Century Fox


Movie Review: THE AVENGERS

My greatest concern about having so many superheroes crammed into one movie was that it’d be a disjointed mess, but Joss Whedon has managed to justify—for the most part—each character’s presence in The Avengers, and create a reasonably coherent summer blockbuster.

I’m not sure how important the plot is to you with this type of big action movie, but it involves Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), being hellbent on ruling Earth and stripping earthlings of free will. He’s helped by a powerful energy cube called the Tesseract—also seen in last year’s Captain America: The First Avenger—and the alien race called Chitauri. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, manages to convince Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and eventually Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to band together as The Avengers to fight the evil invasion. Much action ensues, with lots of special effects, especially if you see it in 3D.

One of the best things the movie has going for it is Whedon’s trademark witty dialogue, with Downey Jr. getting the bulk of the funny lines, even though after a while, he does start to sound one-note with his endless snarky remarks. Ruffalo is my favorite movie Bruce Banner/Hulk yet. His soft-spoken manner contrasts nicely with his giant green angry guy, who has some funny scenes when he just won’t take any more bullsh*t. And thanks to motion capture technology, Ruffalo actually got to play the Hulk, who resembles the actor in facial expressions and hair.

Johansson has one badass fighting scene (you’ve probably seen it in one of the trailers) and is quite effective despite being the most petite team member with no actual superpowers or fancy costume. Hawkeye doesn’t get to do much, but Whedon does take him in an unexpected direction for the first half of the movie.

At two and a half hours, Avengers takes a little long to build up to the climactic battle, with a few pissing contests between the dudes before they agree to come together. And the finale looks a little like something from a Transformers movie, but these superheroes are a lot more interesting than robots, and with Whedon as their leader, they manage to save people’s brain cells from exploding by delivering an entertaining popcorn movie that doesn’t make you feel stupid.

Nerd verdict: Entertaining Avengers


Movie Discussion: WANDERLUST

My day was a little stressy and funky so by the time I got to the Wanderlust screening, I was ready to laugh. And, boy, did I. The movie, directed by David Wain, is about married couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), who find themselves homeless after George loses his job. On their way to Atlanta to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), they stop at a commune named Elysium that’s full of hippies, free love, and vegan dining. George is just looking for a temporary roof over their heads, but Linda may have other plans. The experience takes them out of their comfort zones, but in the end helps them find where they’re supposed to be.

I’m being intentionally vague with the synopsis because I don’t want to spoil any of the outrageous surprises. Instead, I’ll just post the discussion I had after the screening with my regular contributor, Eric Edwards.

Eric Edwards: It’s like the filmmakers drew a line, then decided to go a hundred miles beyond that line.

Pop Culture Nerd: No, it’s more like “What’s a line? We’ve never heard of such a thing.” This movie is definitely not appropriate for young people. It’s barely appropriate for adults.

EE: But I laughed, and that’s rare for me these days. A lot of the humor I’ve been seeing in movies lately is just cringe-inducing. The best comedy is grounded in truth, and I could see how this could happen, especially with George’s sudden unemployment, the couple’s feelings of uncertainty and questioning of everything.

From L: Lauren Ambrose, Rodney Peele, Aniston, Rudd, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Kathryn Hahn

PCN: You’re right, but that’s where reality stops. The characters at Elysium and some of the situations are pure zaniness and insanity. I haven’t laughed that hard at the movies in a long time. This is a good time to mention that when people go see this, they should be tolerant of their fellow moviegoers being loud. There were lots of gasping and guffaws and “Oh my gosh!”es all around. I might have seen flying nachos from the guy next to me.

EE: I think some of those guffaws came from me, and there was a lady behind me with a laugh that could only be described as “avant-garde.”

PCN: I’m so glad Paul Rudd finally gets another chance to be funny. Some of his recent movies have stuck him in the straight-man role—Dinner for Schmucks, anyone?—which is a waste of his talents. Here, we get to see him react to the hippies and slowly come undone. Many of the biggest laughs came from just the look on his face.

EE: I’m a fan of Rudd’s so of course I liked him in this, but this is the first I’ve liked Aniston in a very long time. Maybe since Friends.

PCN: Was it the material that made you like her? What was she doing that was different for you?

EE: I think Rudd both grounded her and pushed her to new levels.

PCN: She had a good script (by Wain and Marino), and was surrounded by so many strong supporting actors that she seemed relaxed. She didn’t have to try so hard to wring comedy out of crap. She also made a poncho look sexy. And useful.

Marino and Watkins

EE: From the supporting cast, Michaela Watkins stood out for me as George’s sister-in-law. She hilariously downplayed her character’s raging unhappiness. It was as though she wanted to pull out a gun or knife at any second.

PCN: If she could rouse from her drug- and alcohol-induced stupor, that is.

EE: Exactly.

PCN: She was funny because she made a lot of her mumbly lines sound like second thoughts or if she just improvised them. How about Joe Lo Truglio as the wannabe novelist?

EE: I found him annoying after a while. There are lots of other actors who could have done that part.

PCN: Um, I don’t know if many actors would’ve been willing to go as far as what that role demanded. (Readers, this will be clear to you, for better or worse, when you see the movie.)

EE: They kept pushing that one joke about his novel’s plot twist and it just wasn’t funny anymore after a while. It was probably the only weak link for me in an otherwise pretty funny movie.

PCN: I didn’t mind that running gag at all. I was too busy laughing.

Nerd verdicts: PCN—Wanderlust leads to hilarity. EE: You should wander into Wanderlust.

Photos: Universal Studios/Gemma La Mana


Academy Award Nominations 2012

I’m sure you’ve heard the nominations so I’ll just share some of my reactions to them. For the most part, I like the nominees but of course, there were a few omissions I wasn’t happy about. First, where’s the Ryan Gosling love for best actor? He had a stellar year, starring in three different films and was outstanding in all of them, most notably Drive. I can only assume his absence from the shortlist is because Academy members couldn’t decide which of his performances to vote for.

Michael Fassbender’s work in Shame is also woefully missing from the same category. It’s brave and raw, and he made a difficult character sympathetic. I’m glad Demián Bichir got a nod, though I don’t know why people found that shocking since he was nominated for a SAG Award.

Rapace as Lisbeth

Rooney Mara did just fine as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but if anyone deserved a nomination for playing that role, it should’ve been the fierce, original Lisbeth, Noomi Rapace (here‘s what I thought of her performance). I don’t know anyone who’s seen both versions who doesn’t agree.

I have no problem with Albert Brooks being omitted from the best supporting actor race. Why should someone get a nomination for playing against type? It should be because the performance is remarkable, right? His work was solid as the gangster in Drive, but I didn’t find it exceptional or among the best of the year.

McGregor with Cosmo in BEGINNERS, Photo: Focus Features

Best Supporting Actor is the weakest out of the acting categories for me. Why is Christopher Plummer the front runner? I liked Beginners and his performance as a gay man who’s liberated by the death of his wife, but it wasn’t more outstanding than anything else he’s done in the past. Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, and Goran Visnjic (maybe even Cosmo the Jack Russell terrier) moved me more in that movie. Plummer’s nomination smells like a lifetime award thing.

I also didn’t find Kenneth Branagh’s work in My Week with Marilyn to be anything special and don’t mean that as an insult. He was just, you know, doing his usual Branagh thing. One of the slots in this category should’ve gone to Sir Ben Kingsley, who got snubbed despite being Hugo‘s most valuable player on screen.

Speaking of which, Hugo got the most nominations of any film? Puh-leeze. I completely agree with best cinematography, visual effects, and art direction, but most of the rest were generous.

I also don’t understand Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close being nominated for best picture, but I’m not alone here so enough said. I do agree with the Academy leaving Bridesmaids out of the best picture category. Yes, it made me laugh a couple times, but the fact people thought it deserved to be among the best movies of the year confounded me. This is not because I’m against comedies getting Oscar love; I’m very much for that. Bridesmaids just wasn’t that comedy.

So, my winner predictions for the lead categories are:

Best PictureThe Artist

Best Actor—George Clooney (though I’d love a Jean Dujardin upset)

Best Actress—Viola Davis  (but am rooting for Michelle Williams, who’ll get my vote in the SAG Awards this weekend)

Best Supporting Actor—Christopher Plummer

Best Supporting Actress—Octavia Spencer

Best Director—Michel Hazanavicius

Here are the major nominees:


The Artist (Thomas Langmann, Producer)

The Descendants (Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Scott Rudin, Producer)

The Help (Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers)

Hugo (Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers)

Midnight in Paris (Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers)

The Tree of Life (Nominees to be determined)

War Horse (Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers)

Moneyball (Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers)


Demián Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball


Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close


Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn


Bérénice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help


The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius

The Descendants, Alexander Payne

Hugo, Martin Scorsese

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen

The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

WRITING (Adapted Screenplay)

The Descendants, Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Hugo, Screenplay by John Logan

The Ides of March, Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon

Moneyball, Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

WRITING (Original Screenplay)

The Artist, Written by Michel Hazanavicius

Bridesmaids, Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig

Margin Call, Written by J.C. Chandor

Midnight in Paris, Written by Woody Allen

A Separation, Written by Asghar Farhadi


A Cat in Paris, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli

Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal

Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Puss in Boots, Chris Miller

Rango, Gore Verbinski

Click here for the full list. What did you think of the nominations?


HAYWIRE Q&A with Steven Soderbergh and Cast Members

From L: Soderbergh, McGregor, Fassbender, Carano, and McHale

Last November, Haywire was the secret screening at the AFI Fest, with a Q&A session afterward with director Steven Soderbergh, Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, moderated by Joel McHale. I discussed the movie back then with my contributor Eric Edwards, but since the movie is opening tomorrow (Jan. 20), I thought I’d post some highlights from the lively Q&A.

McHale asked Soderbergh, “How’d you find Gina?” Soderbergh said, “I watched her fights on CBS on Saturday nights…I just thought, ‘Wow’—somebody should really build a movie around this woman…She’s a natural beauty and she beats people into a pulp in a cage.” He’d just been fired from a movie (he didn’t say which one but it’s believed to be Moneyball), he’d always loved early Bond films, so he decided to combine a spy film with “this new thing” because “why is Angelina Jolie the only woman currently who’s allowed to run around with a gun?” When Carano said yes to the movie, he called screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey) and mapped out a plot outline about revenge, with the directive: “She needs to beat her way through the cast.”

And beat them she did. Ewan McGregor was asked about his fight scene with her. He told a story about how he was supposed to throw a punch over her head at one point, but instead, “I punched her in the head. She came straight up and said, ‘Are you okay?’…I really f**king hurt my hand! She didn’t even feel it!”

Soderbergh said he approached Fassbender and asked, “How would you like to get your ass kicked by a woman?” Fassbender replied, “It’s one of my fetishes in life.” He said his brutal fight scene with Carano in a hotel room took two days to shoot, after which “I went back to my room and puked. I put it down to a bug and not getting my ass kicked by Gina.”

McHale asked Carano about her experience fronting the movie, surrounded by such an impressive supporting cast. She said, “It was surreal. I felt more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt in my life.” There’s been press about how her voice was electronically lowered in the movie, and though she sounded softer in real life—probably due to being nervous as a newbie doing Q&A in front of a film audience—she didn’t sound drastically different than she did as Mallory Kane.

In the movie, Carano sports cornrows at one point and McHale jokingly wanted to know if she was doing a Bo Derek homage. “I fight in cornrows,” Carano said, explaining that it keeps her hair out of her face while she’s working. McHale quipped, “I know. I work at E! Ryan [Seacrest] is always punching me in the knees.”

Speaking of hair, McGregor’s character has a geeky cut that’s “based on a guy who owns a private army,” the actor said. He declined to identify that person.

McHale moved on to Fassbender, asking about the roots of his surname. The Irish-German actor said, “In English, it means Cooper, which is someone who makes binding for barrel carts.”

News of the Kardashian divorce had recently broken back on the day of this screening, so McHale asked Soderbergh, “How do you feel?” Soderbergh said, “I almost didn’t come tonight. We’re all in a period of mourning.” He added, “I’ve been on some miserable shoots and 72 days is a long time.” Judging from the good humor and camaraderie of the cast, I’m guessing Haywire‘s shoot wasn’t one of those.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images


Who’s That Actor?! Pt. 3

In the last month or so, I’ve watched a lot of films and TV and noticed how many actors show up repeatedly. I’m not talking about big stars but thespians who do a ton of work but whose names still escape you. So I decided it’s time for “Who’s That Actor? Pt. 3,” where I post pictures of actors who should look familiar to you, and ask you to name them or at least one role they’ve played (here are part 1 and part 2). I will give no hints, since it’d be too easy to Google the info and arrive at the answer. There are also no prizes, only bragging rights that you are also a pop culture nerd, which I believe will get you lots of phone numbers at a bar.

Ready? Here goes.











How many can you name? Hit the comments and show off your nerdy stripes. If there are answers before yours, you don’t have to copy them because they’re not necessarily all right!


Favorite Books and Movies of 2011

I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, just traveling still and wrapping up my magical, mystery tour. During the past two weeks, I’ve often been uncertain of what day it was, but I’m pretty sure today is the last in 2011 so I thought I’d write about some favorite books and movies I experienced this year. I’m lurking in the parking lot outside a Dunkin’ Donuts stealing its Wi-Fi so hopefully I can do this quickly. Click on links to read my reviews.

Favorite revival of a classic character: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. The author perfectly captured Dr. Watson’s narrative voice, and provided not one but two clever mysteries that could only be solved by the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.

Favorite Scandinavian crime novel: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen. I read some excellent ones, including Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist and Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis’s The Boy in the Suitcase, but Keeper has the edge because of the engaging crime-solving duo of Carl Morck and his assistant, Assad, and the humor Adler-Olsen injects into a grim story.

Book that caused me to lose most water weight: Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington. The story of a fifteen-year-old coping with her father going away to war made me weep copiously, while also making me laugh in parts and swoon over the beauty of its prose.

Craziest adventures: Duane Swierczynski’s Fun & Games and Hell & Gone. You don’t just read these novels—the first two in the Charlie Hardie trilogy—you experience them in a visceral way, the whole time thinking, “What the hell?” and “More!” Luckily, there is more coming in March—the final installment, Point & Shoot.

Favorite thriller that made me invest in Purell: Brett Battles’ Sick. Technically, life as we know it hasn’t ended yet, but it will if Daniel Ash and his colleagues can’t stop some seriously screwed-up people. No one is safe in this story, not even children, which ratchets up the tension. Full disclosure: I was a Beta reader and copyedited it, but the novel was already pretty kick-ass when it came to me.

Favorite dystopian zombie sexy hybrid: Sophie Littlefield’s Aftertime. I read neither dystopian nor zombie novels, but this one, about a mother searching for her child in a world after something terrible happened, moved me and scared me. It also has a really hot sex scene that you probably shouldn’t read in front of your parents or a priest.

Most entertaining true stories: Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I don’t read memoirs, either, but devoured this thing in about one sitting because it’s hilarious and insightful. If she writes another book on the correct method of flossing, I’d read that, too.

Favorite overall movie: The Artist. It made me happy and the smile lingers weeks later. This ties in with the next award for…

Best supporting animal: Uggie from The Artist. He had strong competition from the horses who played Joey in War Horse and Snowy in The Adventures of Tintin, but Uggie did all the acting and stunts himself, while three horses shared duty as Joey and Snowy isn’t real.

Most surprisingly good rom-com: Crazy, Stupid, Love. Romantic comedies are hard to pull off and usually end up being corny, but this one is actually romantic and funny, thanks to Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, and Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s abs should’ve also received top billing.

Most jaw-dropping stunts: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. All-out fun, with innovative action scenes that did look pretty impossible to pull off.

Darkest, coolest noir: Drive. This movie left me shaking, it was so tense and good. Out of all the stellar performances Gosling turned in this year, this was my favorite.

Most affecting performance by an actor playing an icon: Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Everyone has an opinion about Marilyn and knows so much about her already, but Williams still manages to bring out interesting facets of the legend’s psyche and make our heart break all over again.

My battery light on the laptop is flashing so I’d better wrap this up. Plus, the Dunkin’ Donuts manager is eyeing me suspiciously from the window. Hope you have a fun but safe New Year’s Eve and a magnificent 2012 that goes beyond your imagination.