Sunday, November 23, 2014

Final 2015 Grammy Nomination Predictions

Here are my final predictions in a select group of categories. Nominations will be announced on the morning of Dec. 5 for all categories except album of the year, which will be announced later that night during A Very Grammy Christmas Special on CBS at 9 p.m.

Album of the Year
Beyonce, Beyonce
Frozen: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Various Artists
Lazaretto, Jack White
Platinum, Miranda Lambert
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

1000 Forms of Fear, Sia
In The Lonely Hour, Sam Smith

Record of the Year
"Am I Wrong," Nico & Vinz
"Chandelier," Sia
"Happy," Pharrell Williams
"Let it Go," Idina Menzel
"Stay With Me," Sam Smith

"Drunk in Love," Beyonce f/ Jay-Z
"Fancy," Iggy Azalea

Song of the Year
"Chandelier," Songwriters: Sia Furler, Jesse Shatkin
"Happy," Songwriter: Pharrell Williams
"Let It Go," Songwriters: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
"Sing," Songwriter: Ed Sheeran
"Stay With Me," Songwriters: Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips

Best New Artist
Aloe Blacc
Ariana Grande
Sam Smith

Movie Review: 'The Imitation Game' Imitates Many Like it Before

The Benedict Cumberbatch Club decrypts German messages in "The Imitation Game"
Weinstein Company
The Imitation Game (2014, Directed by Morten Tyldum. U.K./U.S.A., English, Color, 114 minutes) As I headed into the theater to watch this film I did not plan to like it. From one viewing of the trailer a couple of months back I knew it was going to be a run-of-the-mill historic cliche about winning the war against the Nazis. When I left the theater, I got exactly that, but with an (unnecessary) brief look at the history of LGBT rights in the U.K., and a stupidly forced love story. It was everything I was expecting and more... and not in a good way.

This is the true story of a group of codebreakers at Bletchley Park in England assigned to decipher German messages from a machine called the Enigma. The eccentric and arrogantly annoying Alan Turing heads the group who would eventually end the war by at least two years because of their successful efforts. Their accomplishments should be heralded, but not this film.

While critic reviews are positive and audiences at film fests give it its top honors, this cliche-ridden film is nothing different than what has been shown over and over again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Movie Review: Good Performances Propel Uneven 'Foxcatcher'

Steve Carell as John du Pont in "Foxcatcher".                              Sony Pictures Classic
Foxcatcher (2014, directed by Bennett Miller. U.S.A., English, color, 134 minutes) The trouble with making a movie out of a real event is that there are so many facts and stories that can be used for dramatic license and skew reality. Yes, I know movies are a work of fiction, but it doesn't mean you should sacrifice a completely true story for the sake of art.

This is my biggest problem with "Foxcatcher", a true story about John du Pont and his manipulatively obsessive relationships with Olympic gold medalists Mark and Dave Schultz, an obsession that led to the murder of Dave, a two-day standoff at the estate, and the incarceration of du Pont. The media frenzy surrounding these events remain in the annals of Delaware County history.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Mark Schultz's 'Foxcatcher' Missing Real Life Drama

Dutton Publishing
There have been a number of books and even more articles written about the murder of Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz by millionaire John du Pont, and a new book by Schultz’s brother is another one added to the pile.

Mark Schultz’s “Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John Du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold,” co-written by David Thomas, tells his side of what happened until that fatal day in January 1996 when his brother was killed. The sad part is, this simply-written book shows that Mark’s story doesn’t live up to the meticulously researched stories about du Pont written before now.

Schultz’s book is a breezy 300 pages that spends the first half recalling his growing up with Dave and the strain of having divorced parents and moving frequently. Into his high school and college years we’re treated to a lot of rapid fire passages on his matches, including his first NCAA Championship, and, later, his 1984 Olympic gold medal win and 1985 World Championship.

What I’m sure most readers will be interested in is the book’s second half, which focuses on working with du Pont. This part served as the basis for the upcoming film “Foxcatcher.” The biggest disappointment is that even though du Pont’s “madness” is part of the book’s title, it encompasses only about 60 pages worth of personal encounters with the eventual murderer. Asked by du Pont to be an assistant coach for Villanova University’s new wrestling program, Schultz frequently mentions his boss’s ways of using his money to buy people, and how manipulative he is. He was one of those people.

There are few stories that truly show the madness the title claims, and what is seen in the film - based on Mark's story/book - shows even more of the bizarre behavior than what is in these pages. The madness we read about is how mentally damaging du Pont was to Schultz, making him lose his passion for wrestling and even giving up in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul so as not to give du Pont the pleasure of success by “coaching” a two-time gold medalist.

“Foxcatcher” is more an autobiography than a tale of a man grieving for his brother. The last line of the book reads “I miss you, Dave” and it’s an emotional moment, probably the most emotional in the book. In a book dominated with pages of wrestling recaps and the struggles of being an amateur wrestler, the last line makes up for the lack of sibling love and rivalry you would expect.

For those who are somewhat familiar with the story will find “Foxcatcher” an interesting view on a person who lived under the shadow of his brother, and under the manic aura of an eccentric millionaire. This book seems like another attempt for Mark to climb out from under the dominant figures in his life and stand proudly on his own, I just wish he had a better story to tell.

“Foxcatcher,” by Mark Schultz and David Thomas, will be released by Dutton on Nov. 18. 320 pages, $26.95 hardcover, $12.99 e-book.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: 'The Theory of Everything' Explains Nothing, Worst Film of the Year

The Theory of Everything (2014, directed by James Marsh. U.K, English, color, 124 minutes) The above poster for "The Theory of Everything" states that it's the "incredible" story of Jane and Stephen Hawking. Perhaps the story of their 30-year marriage is incredible, but you sure won't see it in this pile of garbage that's being marketed as an uplifting story. This movie, quite frankly, is bullshit.

When you tackle a true story, especially one that includes one of the great physicists in the world, there should be a delicate and sincere touch that makes its delivery less like a cheap Hallmark movie and more like a deeply engrossing and enlightening experience. This film is like a combination of  "My Left Foot" and "A Beautiful Mind", but deletes any sort of sincerity those films presented. I'm not saying the aforementioned are the greatest in cinema history, they're just better portrayals of those afflicted with a handicap or mental disease to accomplish greatness.

Movie Review: 'Force Majeure' Piles on Dark Laughs For Vacation

The avalanche that started it all in "Force Majeure"
Force Majeure (2014, directed by Ruben Östlund. Sweden, in Swedish and English, color, 118 minutes) I saw "Force Majeure", Sweden's submission for the best foreign language film Oscar consideration, during a packed screening as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival this year. It was one of many sellouts during this year's fest and it's easy to see why.

Tomas, his wife, Ebba, and their two children take to the French Alps for a five-day vacation. The first day goes off without a hitch. Plenty of skiing on the beautifully photographed slopes, a hilarious photo opportunity on the mountain, and cranky kids. You know, it's vacation. Then on the second day, the family has lunch outside at the hotel's restaurant when a controlled avalanche happens, but it looks to get too close and everyone starts running, even Tomas. While Ebba protects the kids as a cloud of snow blankets the deck, Tomas grabs his glove and phone and runs like hell.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

'Foxcatcher' Gets Philadelphia Premiere

(From L) Director Bennett Miller, Nancy Schultz and Anthony Michael Hall at the red carpet premiere of "Foxcatcher" at the Prince Music Theater.
It was a red carpet affair for the Philadelphia premiere of the film “Foxcatcher” Monday night.
The Prince Music Theater hosted the premiere of the award-winning film, with director Bennett Miller and star Anthony Michael Hall in attendance.

Set primarily in Delaware County, “Foxcatcher” is the story of millionaire John du Pont, played by Steve Carell, and his relationships with Olympic wrestling athletes Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) as they prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games on du Pont’s Newtown Square estate.

The triangular story of power turned fatal when du Pont shot and killed Dave at his house on the estate on Jan. 26, 1996. Du Pont was convicted of third degree murder but mentally ill, and died in prison in 2010.

“This whole adventure began about eight years ago when a stranger approached me at an event in a store and handed me an envelope that contained newspaper clippings I was, somehow, not familiar with. Immediately I knew I was going to make this film,” said Miller at the premiere.