Mar 7 2010

Critical End! Live Blogs the 82nd Annual Academy Awards


UPDATE: Fun’s over for this year, but relive all the heartwarming memories via the snazzy replay below.

UPDATE: We’re live, folks. Read and comment below.

The fun starts in just a few hours, folks! Stay tuned.

Mar 6 2010

Live Blog Reminder


Just a friendly reminder to mark your calendars tomorrow for the Oscars and the Critical End! Oscar Live Blog.  Use the handy sign-up form to your right if you want an email alert when it’s about to start.

Until then, make your last-minute Oscar pool picks and enjoy the ludicrous eyewear of Steve Martin.

Mar 2 2010

Announcing the Critical End! Oscar Live Blog 2010


oscar-mayer-wienermobileThat’s right, kids, we’re at it again. This Sunday (5PT/8ET on ABC) the Oscars will once again invade your TV and we’ll be there to yammer on about it for the second time in a row.

The way it works is simple. When you sit down to watch the awards, make sure you’ve got your laptop (or mobile device!) tuned to this site where you’ll find running commentary by me and Logan for the entirety of the broadcast. Check out the snazzy replay of last year’s event to get the idea.

Don’t have someone to enjoy the show with? Join us and post your comments! (Comment posting should work a lot smoother this year.) Do have someone to enjoy the show with? Ignore them and hang out with us instead.

Want to be reminded when the live blog gets close? Use the handy form below. Love rhetorical questions? So do we!

Feb 2 2010

Avatar To Win Oscars, Still Rather Hard Out Here For a Pimp

The Oscar nominations were announced today with no big surprises.  Personally, I’m glad to see District 9 up for a few awards, although Sharlto Copley really deserved a best actor nom as well…but what do I know?  If it were up to me, Chevy Chase would still be hosting and any Oscars that Quentin Tarantino won would be given to estate of Sergio Leone. 

The real news here is that your good pals Logan and Ryan will once again be giving the Oscars the ol’ CE! live blog treatment!  Some of you older fans may recall that we had a blast doing this last year.  Keep an eye on the site for handy reminders as Oscar season continues.  The Oscars will air on March 7.

Nominees for the 82nd Academy Awards. 

Jan 28 2010

Happy Birthday, Frankie!

It’s a slow news day here around the Critical End! offices.  Sure, there are a few things of interest (the final two Harry Potter films will be in 3D, even the director of Saw VII doesn’t want to make a Saw VII, and Avatar has become the number one film of all time), but not much to write home about.

That being said, we’re proud to introduce a new feature: Birthday wishes!  Today’s birthday wish goes out to one of my favorite contemporary directors, Frank Darabont.  You may recall him as the Oscar nominated writer/director of such crowd favorites as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.  He then went on to piss everybody off with a depressing little horror film called The Mist.  Chances are you never saw it, because horror films (and films starring Thomas Jane) never get any sort of Oscar buzz.  Shame on you.  

I’ve attached a clip of the birthday boy talking about the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner.  It’s a minute and a half, and if you didn’t catch it on the Blade Runner DVD, it’s very funny and worth a look.

Have a favorite Frankie film or moment?  Share below on the all new “Critical End! Birthday Wall of Coolness!” (which looks amazingly like our standard comment section).  Mr. Darabont is 51 today.

Jul 5 2009

The Wrestler


It's almost this draining to watch.

Did you know professional wrestlers use razor blades to surreptitiously slice bloody gashes into themselves during a live match? Did you further know that Mickey Rourke actually did this for The Wrestler? I mean actually cut his forward with a real razor blade for a scene. Were you additionally aware that Mickey Rourke is both insane and awesome?

I wanted to see this during Oscar week, but I only had time for the best picture nominees. Big mistake on my part. Rourke is just as compelling as Sean Penn is in Milk, but The Wrestler is free of that film’s obvious Oscar pandering. It’s a rare character piece that still remembers to have a strong narrative, as well as supporting characters that feel as real as our hero (Marisa Tomei is especially noteworthy as are her breasts). It’s sad and funny and definitely worth your time.

It’s also a little predictable and a bit too heavy-handed at times, but what are you going to do?

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

8 out of 10

Feb 22 2009

Critical End! Live Blogs the Oscars


The live blog is over, but if you missed it you can check out the snazzy replay below. Thanks to everyone who watched and posted. We had a great time and will definitely do it again next year.

If you’ve got another event that you think needs the CE! live blog treatment, feel free to post a comment.

Feb 22 2009

Oscar Week: Slumdog Millionaire (Ryan’s Take)


Is it weird that among this year’s best picture directors are the guys who did Alien , Edtv, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and 28 Days Later?

Okay, the director of The Reader doesn’t have any embarrassing IMDb credits, but ironically that’s the worst of the nominees. The best, in my opinion, is zombie aficionado Danny Boyle’s work: Slumdog Millionaire.

"You can take the Golden Globe and go home, or keep playing for the grand prize."

"You can take the Golden Globe and go home, or keep playing for the grand prize."

As I’ve indicated in my previous Oscar posts, this year’s best picture candidates are a collection of good stories elevated by outstanding performances. There is nothing intrinsically Oscar worthy about Frost/Nixon, only Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, and Sam Rockwell push it to that level. This film is the exception. While its acting is generally strong, Slumdog earns its seat at the table by just being a damn good movie.

The premise is that Jamal, a kid from India who has been poor all his life, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The film opens as he is being tortured by police who are suspicious of his success on the show and accuse of him of cheating. To prove his innocence, he explains (through flashback) the events in his life that led to the knowledge he needed to answer each question correctly.

It’s a pretty wacky concept, which is why it’s great that it’s grounded by a strong emotional story: Jamal’s lifelong search for the girl he’s loved since childhood. This isn’t just a humorous series of vignettes from Jamal’s life that coincidentally drop the answers to trivia questions in his lap (though it’s that too), it’s the story of two people who want to be together, but are repeatedly and cruelly separated by fate. The gameshow gimmick is the framework that gets the film moving, but you’ll gradually forget about the money and become more invested in whether these kids finally find a way to be together.

It’s shockingly well-executed. The film moves like a dance, seamlessly flowing back and forth through various stages of Jamal’s life to the rhythm of an excellent score by Bollywood composer A. R. Rahman. The twists in the story are unpredictable, the characters are well-defined and memorable, and the ending is supremely satisfying

Slumdog coupleDon’t worry, I’ve got nitpicks. You’re going to have to accept the fairy tale conceit that two children can fall in love at first sight and love no one else until reuniting well into adulthood. It’s occasionally jarring the way the movie switches from fun and over the top to gritty and serious.

And for some odd reason, in this otherwise expertly edited film, the opening fifteen minutes really drags. But that’s what the gameshow thing is for, to convince you to stick with the movie long enough for it to get going. Once it does, all is forgiven.

I can’t think of a person to whom I wouldn’t recommend Slumdog Millionaire. It’s not a movie that will change your life, but it is one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in a movie theater for a while (not counting that thing I was arrested for). And it’s certainly my pick for best picture of 2008.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆
9 out of 10

Feb 22 2009

Oscar Week: Milk (Ryan’s Take)

The Pre-Oscar Celebration

The Pre-Oscar Celebration

Earlier this week I said that Benjamin Button was a film that wanted an Oscar. If that’s true, then Milk is a film that is jonesing for one.

Milk is lying on the sidewalk, curled up in the fetal position, hoping that the Academy will pass by and drop a statue in its upturned hat.

It’s a personal story of a man who triumphs over adversity despite the prejudices of society, deeply impacts those around him, takes on the system from within, struggles to find love, and dies a martyr. Oh, and it’s about gay rights and stars Sean Fucking Penn. Scientists could not create a more formulaic Oscar grab in a lab. It’s the kind of transparent effort I really enjoy tearing apart. Unfortunately for me, Milk is, for the most part, a very good movie.

Milk is an incredible gathering of talent. I’m not much of a Sean Penn fan, but I will say that he knows how to really become his character. He portrays Harvey Milk with so much honesty, enthusiasm, and sadness, that I bought into it right away and never saw his performance falter. James Franco, who–let’s face it–is hit or miss, was excellent as Harvey’s longtime partner Scott. The most interesting of Milk’s followers was Cleve, and I spent the film trying to figure out where I knew the actor from. It’s Speed Racer. That blew me away. Call Emile Hirsch a new favorite of mine.

Brolin swoops in to steal the scene.

Brolin swoops in to steal the scene.

Finally, if Heath Ledger wasn’t such a lock for best supporting actor, I’d put my money on Josh Brolin. He has relatively few scenes, but commands every one of them with ease. I’d like to see this movie again because Brolin’s character has his own parallel movie running alongside Harvey’s that I feel I didn’t fully appreciate the first time through.

However, Milk follows the trend among this year’s best picture nominees by pairing fantastic acting with a comparatively weak plot. Not as weak as The Reader or even Frost/Nixon, but a bit stiff for my tastes. There aren’t clear story beats to latch on to. Rather than gradually building tension leading up to an important moment, the film tends to hop around from one milestone in Milk’s life to the next. You’ll only realize something was significant just after it happens. This lends to the documentary feel, but makes for a climax that comes out of nowhere, abruptly ending the film.

Still, I can’t stay mad at this movie. Milk’s story is one that deserved the cinematic treatment, not only because more people should know it, but because it makes for great entertainment. And if that means an Oscar or two goes its way, then I won’t protest.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆
8 out of 10

Feb 22 2009

Oscar Week: Frost/Nixon (Ryan’s Take)

Don't be mislead, the movie does not take place in a black featureless void.

Don't be mislead, the movie does not take place in a black featureless void.

Every once in a while, a Hollywood producer spends an evening at the theater and returns with his next film project. While the play may be great, its cinematic simulacrum is often subpar. Sometimes horrendous.

Maybe the filmmakers don’t understand what made the original work, maybe they’re just out to trade on the original’s popularity, or maybe there’s just a certain indefinable spark that only live theater can ignite.

But despite this track record, I support these adaptations. Partly because I believe that theatrical stories should be captured in a permanent medium, and partly because every once in a while, as in the case of Frost/Nixon, the result is a legitimately good film.

This is the story of British television presenter David Frost, the man who landed the first post-Watergate interview with Richard Nixon. Frost has to get something exciting and preferably incriminating out of Nixon to make the interviews a ratings success. Nixon has to appear innocent and noble to regain America’s acceptance. It’s Frost’s last chance to rejuvenate his career and Nixon’s last chance to return to the public sector. As Nixon says, only one of them can win.

And so the battle begins. And by battle I mean two guys talking to each other. Aside from a batch of added and rejiggered scenes intended to make the story more cinematic, Frost/Nixon sticks unashamedly close to its stage roots by being composed almost entirely of long conversations in hotel rooms. Very luckily for the audience, the performances are engaging enough to sustain this formula.

Nixon Trio

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella (both veterans of the stage version) are equally powerful. Sheen aptly contrasts Frost’s ever-confident exterior with his increasing desperation as arranging the interviews becomes more and more challenging. Langella does the impossible by giving us a Nixon who is sympathetic. Calculating and ruthless, yes, but not the monster that the film could have easily made him into. The supporting cast is on their game as well, especially Sam Rockwell who is absolutely exceptional as the obsessed and frustrated author who has dedicated his career to getting a public apology from the former president.

So it’s damn compelling is what I’m saying. But it’s not without its faults. The movie is pretty up front about the fact that everything is leading up to the Watergate confrontation. Starting from the first ten minutes of the film, when this becomes clear, and lasting to the final ten minutes of the film when this actually happens, you’ll be playing the waiting game.

That’s not to say the bulk of the film is boring. I really felt for David as he struggled to make the interviews a reality while his stable talkshow career was falling apart around him. I was interested in the remains of Nixon’s post-presidential career, speaking at cheap corporate events while scheming to use the Frost interview to get back on top. But I couldn’t help thinking, “Yeah, I get it, let’s get to the good stuff!” This caused the second act to drag, leaving many scenes feeling like a roadblock in my path to the payoff. When the payoff did arrive, it was spectacular. But it was also so short that I wondered if it had all been worth it.

Ultimately, it had. Frost/Nixon displays performances of a rare caliber. And the knowledge that the events (while tweaked a bit) are factual makes it all the more fascinating and satisfying to watch, even if that satisfaction is delayed.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
7 out of 10

One last thing. Ron, I’ve stuck up for you several times in the past. In fact, I came to your defense on this issue during a chat with a coworker a few weeks before seeing Frost/Nixon. But as of this film, I am finally and officially tired of Clint. It’s getting distracting.

Feb 21 2009

Oscar Week: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Logan’s Take)

In addition to a best picture nomination, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has also been nominated for its stunning visual effects. Since it’s up against fan favorites Iron Man and The Dark Knight, I thought it might be important to take a moment and look at what exactly makes Benjamin Button worthy of this award. Let’s start from the beginning.


When the film opens, Brad Pitt looks like this. I can understand how they made him look so old, but check out that size! What a shrimp man! Is that an Oscar for visual effects that I smell? Anyway, the film moves on and he begins to look like…


This! Oh my! Yeah, I’m starting to smell an Oscar…but wait! If he looks like this now, then that means that sexy made-to-order Brad Pitt can’t be too far behind…


And there he is! At this point in the movie, I think we should just give them the Oscar right freakin’ now. The only thing left is the final, young and dying Brad Pitt. The studio has gone to great lengths to keep this a secret, so I guess I better mark this one as a SPOILER ALERT. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button really surprised me in it’s closing minutes when Brad Pitt became…


…a buff Steve Guttenberg in a dress. If that doesn’t deserve a visual effects Oscar, I don’t know what does.

Feb 21 2009

Oscar Week: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Ryan’s Take)

Dance off!

Dance off!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button wants an Oscar. It’s a movie tailor-made for the Academy. The main character goes on a journey of self-discovery, meeting every stripe of colorful supporting character along the way, and becoming entangled in a passionate, though ultimately tragic romance. Many have called it Forrest Gump 2 and I find it hard to argue.

However, in Forrest Gump the message was: “Look at how incredibly impactful the life of one man, especially one of such inauspicious beginnings, can be on the world around him.” Whereas the much more simplistic message of Benjamin Button is: “Isn’t love both wonderful and sad? Also Brad Pitt ages backwards.”

That’s the gimmick, if you hadn’t heard. Benjamin, played by Pitt, is born a (tiny) old man and grows younger as the years go by. He falls in love with Cate Blanchett’s character Daisy when they’re young, but it takes several years for their appearances to hit equilibrium so they can start making out without nauseating the audience.

Scene by scene, the film works brilliantly. Pitt impressively portrays each stage of Benjamin’s life, from an old man with the mind of a toddler to a world-weary teenager. The makeup and cinematography are exceptional, lending to the authentic feel. And the dialogue is witty and sharp. This adds up to plenty of quirky moments in Benjamin’s story that just feel perfect.

"We're the same age....NOW!"

"We're the same age...NOW!"

But when viewed as a whole, this movie is just a strung together collection of moments. There’s a lot of character exploration stuff (Benjamin’s short time in the war, Benjamin’s estranged father) that the movie wants me to believe is important, but is actually just padding, only tangentially related to the real story: the romance between Benjamin and Daisy.

And that, the actual plot, is incredibly straightforward. He loves her. She’s too young. She loves him. He’s not comfortable with it. He loves her again. She’s over him. And so on. I won’t tell you how it ends, but you’ve seen the trailer. You’ve seen other bittersweet romance movies. You already know.

Not a single thing happens in the film that can’t be predicted from the TV spots. And the most annoying part is that almost none of the story depends on its major conceit, that Benjamin ages backwards. If you were to take that element away, nothing but surface things would change. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no grand metaphor about the nature of time and its effect on human relationships here. It’s just your average love story with a goofy high concept pasted on.

Of course, it’s a pretty damned interesting high concept. I’m not denying that it draws you in, nor that Pitt is fun to watch in the role. But it’s two hours long and nothing much actually happens. F. Scott Fitzgerald knew enough to keep the source material to 32 pages. (Which, incidentally, you can read at DailyLit for free.)

This movie’s tough to rate, because it succeeds as a feelgood melodrama and its flaws weren’t severe enough to take me out of the experience. But the plot’s weak and predictable, making it more of a showcase for Pitt and Blanchett’s performances than a real story. And from an Oscar candidate I expect more.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
6 out of 10

Feb 19 2009

Oscar Week: The Reader (Logan’s Take)

readerposter (Editors note: Since The Reader is no longer playing in Logan’s area, we tried our best to explain the plot to him before he wrote this review. However, as soon as we mentioned that the film involved Nazis, a very excited Logan exclaimed, “I LOVE those guys!” Needless to say, all of us here at Critical End! were appalled until we realized that Logan was, in fact, confusing Nazis with kittens. We took a few moments to give Logan a brief history lesson on the Nazis and many of the terrible acts that they performed. During this time he became visibly upset and finally stormed out of the room vowing to “go all Captain America on some Nazi ass”‘. We never did get to explain The Reader to him.)

Oscar Week: The Reader (Logan’s Take)

You know what I hate? Nazis.

They’re big dumb fatty McFat fats who all have poopie pants.

That’s right. Pants full of poop.

I’m sorry to use such harsh language, but I feel very enraged in regards to this issue. In fact, if you told me that there was a Nazi out in the hall by the Pepsi machine right this very second, I would most likely go out there and kill him…in the face.

You know the only thing I hate more than Nazis? Nazi zombies.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
0 out of 10 (for Nazis)

(Editors note: Yes, we’re aware that the lowest rating on this site is usually one star out of ten, but we’re talkin’ Nazis here, kids. Oh yes, and we promise that Logan’s next review will actually be on topic. He’s been warned.)

Feb 18 2009

Oscar Week: The Reader (Ryan’s Take)

Looks like it's mostly about reading.

Looks like it's mostly about reading.

Look. We all remember that time we ate too much Mexican before the big meeting. That time we put a huge ding in Dad’s Oldsmobile. And that time we accidentally slept with a Nazi. I’m just saying regrets are a fact of life.

The Reader follows Michael Berg, played in his teens by David Kross (surprisingly compelling) and in his 40’s by Ralph Fiennes (phones it in). We begin in 1950’s Germany where Michael, after a chance meeting, is seduced by an older woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). The two strike up an affair in which Hanna calls all the shots, demanding that Michael read to her (from classic books he’s studying) before any naughty stuff takes place. Everything’s peachy until the day Michael finds that Hanna has left with no explanation.

Years later, while studying to be a lawyer, Michael sits in on the trial of several former Nazi guards. And wouldn’t you know it? Hanna takes the stand. Yes, getting dumped by your first love can leave a scar, but finding out she was also a card carrying member of the most despicable organization in human history is in a class of its own. While watching the trial, Michael realizes that he’s got a key piece of info that could partially exonerate Hanna, but coming forward would mean admitting that he bedded Mrs. Hitler.

Awww, I can't stay mad at her.

Awww, I can't stay mad at her.

The movie needs me to feel conflicted for it to be impactful. I have to love Hanna, vicariously, as Michael does, while at the same time reviling her for the atrocities she took part in. But ya know what? Nazi. That trumps pretty much everything.

But, wait, the movie assures us, she’s one of those “just following orders” Nazis. She gives testimony that she joined up only because the pay was better than her old job. When recounting how she and her fellow guards refused to unlock the doors of a burning church full of prisoners, she explains that opening the doors would have been impossible. The prisoners would have escaped and it was her responsibility to guard them. So, you know, they pretty much all died. Great job, movie, you’ve convinced me that she’s not evil, just dumber than a box of hammers.

And yet, I actually did manage to get invested in this movie, due to outstanding performances by Kate Winslet and David Kross. Winslet absolutely deserves her best actress nomination. Even though their tryst comes out of nowhere, and its crippling long-term effect on Michael is at times unbelievable, I still believed these characters were in love and felt for them when things started to fall apart.

So we’re left with a pretty straightforward star-crossed love story. All the Nazi stuff is really just window dressing. (Any larger point the film may be trying to make about the way post-war Nazis were treated by society kinda falls apart when the Nazi in question is so outlandishly unaware of the morality of her actions.) As a tragic love story, it gets the job done, though the material never lives up to the effort that the leads put in.

The Reader is a mediocre movie elevated by great performances, but not nearly high enough to warrant its best picture nod.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
6 out of 10

Feb 17 2009

Oscar Week at Critical End!

Not appropriate award show attire.

Not appropriate award show attire.

Yes, folks, it’s time once again for your favorite stars to sit awkwardly in an auditorium for three hours, hoping desperately to validate their careers with an 8 pound pewter statuette. It’s a great time for movie lovers, and Critical End! will be celebrating all week with our thoughts on this year’s nominees, our picks to win, and other Academy-related tomfoolery.

And it all comes to a head this Sunday (5PT/8ET on ABC) with The First Annual Critical End! Oscar Live Blog. That’s right, when you sit down to watch the awards, make sure you’ve got your laptop tuned to this site where you’ll find running commentary by me and Logan for the entirety of the broadcast. Don’t have someone to enjoy the show with? Join us and post your comments! Do have someone to enjoy the show with? Ignore them and hang out with us instead.

Want to be reminded when the live blog gets close? Use the handy form below.