Tampa Movie Weekend – 3.06.09

All the hype this weekend is focused on the bloody arrival of dysfunctional-superhero saga Watchmen, as grim, brutal and overlong a movie as likely to play the multiplexes this year (read my review).

Better news: The third annual Gasparilla International Film Festival continues through Saturday. The Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival continues through March 15.

And still playing Tampa Bay area screens are gorgeous looking animated movie Coraline and quite a few 2008 films that landed Oscar wins and nominations, or should have notched Academy Awards attention.

All of the latter group — including Slumdog Millionaire, Defiance, Gran Torino, The Wrestler, The Reader, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Waltz With Bashir, Frost/Nixon, Rachel Getting Married and The Dark Knight — are far more satisfying than Watchmen.

fanboys-vader-poster-fullsizeAlso opening 3/6:

Fanboys, the tale of five Star Wars fanatics who break into George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in 1998 to steal a print of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (released in 1999). The road-trip  comedy includes a brawl between Star Wars fans and Trekkies. Seth Rogen makes a cameo, as do Princess Leia, er, Carrie Fisher and fellow Star Wars cast member Billy Dee Williams; William Shatner (Captain Kirk, of Star Trek); and Kevin Smith.  “The most appealing aspect of the movie is that the guys and gal at the center of it don’t just love the Star Wars saga for its own sake,” Michael Sragow writes in the Baltimore Sun. “They love the way they feel about each other when they’re escaping into its universe and sharing all the wonder and the trivia.


  • Tampa TheatreTwo Lovers , the well-reviewed new drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw; cast also includes Isabella Rossellini and Elias Koteas (through March 11)
  • Beach Theatre (St. Petersburg Beach) – Slumdog Millionaire
  • Burns Court (Sarasota) – Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Waltz with Bashir, Two Lovers

Oscar Talk: My Envelope, Please

oscars6After what feels like the longest Oscars PR run-up in Academy Awards history, the 81st annual Academy Awards arrives Sunday night.

Wolverine, I mean, Hugh Jackman, will play host in a ceremony purportedly designed to honor the year’s best achievements on the big screen.

Sadly, this year that means that The Dark Knight, the visually astonishing fantasy film directed by Christopher Nolan, was robbed of a best picture nomination, and was all but ignored in most categories. A notable exception: The late Heath Ledger’s bone-deep performance as The Joker, a shoo-in to win for best supporting actor.

Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, compelling but essentially designed to win an Oscar, is just one of the best picture nominees that might have been bumped to make way for The Dark Knight.  Another is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, vastly overrated — some have called it Forrest Gump redux — but nonetheless the recipient of 14 nominations (!!!???!!!).

The Oscars goofed, too, in leaving a pair of quite accomplished and quite different foreign films — Gomorra, a crime film from Italy, and Swedish horror shocker Let the Right One In —  off the list of foreign language nominees.

On the other hand, it’s gratifying to see underdogs Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Melissa Leo (Frozen River) land major acting nominations. Their chances at winning are practically nil.

Without further ado, my picks.


  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader


  • Most likely to win: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Deserves to win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: Stephen Daldry, The Reader; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Gus Van Sant, Milk


  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
  • The rest: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor; Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon; Sean Penn, Milk; Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


  • Most likely to win: Kate Winslet, The Reader
  • Deserves to win: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
  • The rest: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Melissa Leo, Frozen River; Meryl Streep, Doubt

—–Supporting Actor—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
  • The rest: Josh Brolin, Milk; Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

—–Supporting Actress—–

  • Most likely to win: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
  • Deserves to win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

—–Foreign Language—–

  • Most likely to win: The Class
  • (Probably) Deserves to win: Waltz With Bashir
  • The rest: The Baader Meinhof Complex, Departures, Revanche


  • Most likely to win: Wall-E
  • Deserves to win: Kung Fu Panda
  • The rest: Bolt


  • Most likely to win: Man on Wire
  • Deserves to win: Trouble the Water
  • The rest: Betrayal, Encounters at the End of the World, The Garden

—–Adapted Screenplay—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader

—–Original Screenplay—–

  • Most likely to win: Milk
  • Deserves to win: In Bruges
  • The rest: Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, Wall-E


  • Most likely to win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Deserves to win: The Dark Knight
  • The rest: Changeling, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

—–Art Direction—–

  • Likely to win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Deserves to win: The Dark Knight
  • The rest: Changeling, The Duchess, Revolutionary Road

—–Music (score)—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Milk, Wall-E

—–Music (song)—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: “Jai Ho,” Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: “Down to Earth,” Wall-E; “O Saya,” Slumdog Millionaire

Oscar Talk: Talent Behind The Reader Strikes Back at Those Who Call It a “Holocaust Denial Film”

oscars5The Reader, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Kate Winslet) and five other Academy Awards, essentially is an examination of how a nation, Germany, chooses to deal with the sins of its past.

And yet, some have attacked the movie as a “Holocaust denial film,” saying that Winslet, who has already been honored with a Golden Globe and a Bafta, was too sympathetic in her portrayal  of a female prison camp guard.

the_reader1-520x349Mark Weitzman, head of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said  “Essentially it takes a woman who serves in, is responsible for, is complicit in, you pick the words, in the deaths of at least 300 Jews – and her big secret shame is that she’s illiterate.”

The London Jewish Cultural Centre’s head, Trudy Gold, in an interview with Jewish News, also expressed her displeasure with the movie.

“This is just one of a spate of films portraying sympathetic Nazis. This woman acted monstrously, there’s no question about that. The question is have we gotten to the point where we have to make heroines out of Nazis? I do find it a bit sick.”

(Source story)

The talent behind the film, including director Stephen Daldry, David Hare, whose screenplay was adapted from the German bestseller, producer Donna Gigliotti and studio owner Harvey Weinstein, are striking back.

So are leading Jewish voices, including author and activist Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Here’s the joint statement issued by the filmmakers (caps are theirs), courtesy of the movie’s publicists:

“We are proud of The Reader and everyone who made this film.  It is outrageous and insulting that people have called it a “Holocaust denial film.”  While entitled to their opinion, these allegations are fueled by ignorance and a misunderstanding of the material, and  are based on unsubstantiated arguments.

The greatest films elicit great debate and conversation. Unfortunately, the recent attacks on The Reader have generated debates, not about the substance of the film, but about what people believe to be the intent of the filmmakers.  To take a piece of art that was constructed with the hard work of many talented people and turn it into propaganda is plain ignorant.  No one is suggesting that The Reader must be beloved by everyone.  On the contrary, there is always room for criticism.  If one does not like the film that is one matter; but to project one’s personal bias on the filmmaker’s objective is wrong and something we could no longer remain silent about.

The Reader is a film about how a generation of Germans lived in the shadow of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century.  Some detractors of the film have said that it is a piece of Holocaust revisionism; however Holocaust survivors, children of Holocaust survivors and a Nobel Peace Prize winner feel differently.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has praised The Reader as “a film that deals powerfully with Germany’s reconciliation with its past.”  He said that ‘it is not about the Holocaust; it is about what Germany did to itself and its future generations.’ He called it ‘a faithful adaptation of an important book, that is still relevant today as genocide continues to be practiced around the world.’ ”

Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, concurs, according to a press release:

“As we move further away from the Holocaust we must continue to tell the story of the Shoah in ways that will reach and touch new generations.  The Reader, which takes place in post-WWII Germany, clearly portrays the horrors of the Holocaust, not visually but intellectually and emotionally.  There is no doubt to what Kate Winslet’s character, Hannah Schmitz, did during the war.  Her guilt is given.  At her trial her crimes are portrayed in detail and she is brought to justice for them.  The Reader is not meant to be a factual re-telling of the Holocaust; for that we have documentaries.  Rather it is about guilt and responsibility that is as important for our times as it was for post-war Germans.”

Will any of the folks associated with the movie, or anyone else, allude to the controversy during the Oscar ceremonies on Sunday night?

Stay tuned.

Tampa Movie Weekend – 2.20.09

Opening this weekend:

fired-upFired Up (PG-13) — More thrilling teenybopper drama: A pair of high-school football stars (Nicholas D’Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen) give up the pigskin for cheerleading, the better to meet girls (Sarah Roemer, Molly Sims). Cast also includes screen vet Philip Baker Hall (Zodiac, Magnolia, Secret Honor). Metascore: 30/100. Reviews

Madea Goes to Jail (PG-13) – One-man entertainment empire Tyler Perry is back with another low-budget comedy. This time, he stars as the grandmotherly if rude and crude title character. Sounds formulaic. Reviews


Also playing:


Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action + Oscar Nominated Short Films: AnimatedTampa Theatre

(photo, left, is from the short “New Boy,” directed by Irish filmmaker Steph Green, and adapted from a Roddy Doyle short story)

Oscar-nominated Slumdog MillionaireBeach Theatre, St. Petersburg

AMC Best Picture Showcase: 2009 Oscar Nominees (5 for $30) – AMC Veterans Theater.


  • Milk: 10:30AM
  • The Reader: 1:05PM
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: 3:45PM
  • Slumdog Millionaire: 7:15PM
  • Frost/Nixon: 9:45PM

Oscar Talk: Awards Bounce? Not so Much

oscars3The Oscar bounce — the uptick in attendance when any particular movie lands Academy Awards nominations — once was the cart placed before the horse of movie productions.

That is, producers and studios routinely attached stars and directors to scripts merely in hopes of assembling a movie that would land awards attention, which in turn would lead to boffo box office, in Variety-speak.

As it turns out, the Oscar bounce is practically as obsolete as the payphone.

So says Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein, in a piece published today.

“The Academy Awards’ best picture nominees were announced Jan. 22, an event quickly commemorated by a blitzkrieg of expensive full-page ads in the trades, the New York Times and my newspaper, designed to use the cachet of a best picture nomination to nudge reluctant moviegoers into the theaters,” Goldstein writes.

“But at the time when the rest of the movie business is booming, the best picture nominees–with the obvious exception of the crowd-pleasing Slumdog Millionaire–are doing a slow fade. Only one of the five best picture nominees, The Reader, has made more of its overall box-office take after it earned a best picture nod.”

Downside for viewers, long term: Some high-quality productions, which might only have been given the green light because of their potential for grabbing Oscar attention, will now stay in development hell.

Upside for viewers, short term (as in this season): Oscar prospects have lengthened the on-screen life of an impressive group of films far more worthwhile than such February releases as the turgid The International and the execrable Friday the 13th.

So … see the good stuff while you still can.

Click here to read the rest of Goldstein’s story.