Country Strong – Movie Review

Country Strong

In Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a country music star struggling with substance abuse. Taken out of rehab a month prematurely by her manager/husband James, portrayed by country star Tim McGraw, for an encore tour, the movie is supposedly about her struggling with her addiction, life, resurrecting her career, etc.

Throw into the mix Beau Hutton, played by Garrett Hedlund, a rehab worker who also happens to be a aspiring to become a country music star, as well as Leighton Meester starring as Chiles Stanton, a girl who also wants to become a country star and you’re set for Country Strong.

So basically, you have four storylines in the movie being developed simultaneously, and while the prospect of these four storylines is compelling and promising, they fall flat in a movie that I hoped would be far better.

While the acting is quite good, this overload in the movie’s plot undermines it. Within each storyline, you have a bunch of other things going on as well. Kelly’s storyline serves as a vehicle for tackling issues with the entertainment industry as a whole, Beau’s storyline is used to introduce romance into the movie, etc…

At one point in the movie, Leighton Meester’s character is described as “the next Carrie Underwood”. I like Leighton but to equate her vocal talents with half of Carrie’s would be an abomination. She has limited range and while enjoyable as a singer, she is nowhere near a vocal powerhouse. So being the Carrie Underwood fan that I am, this served as another point I have against the movie.

A positive thing I can say about the movie is that even though the handling of the plots is full with cliches, the ending is not. I was hoping fifteen minutes into the movie that they would risk ending it the way they did. And I got my wish.

What also helps the movie is the soundtrack. Featuring many songs that I have become familiar with, I couldn’t help but smile whenever they started to sing something that I know. Notable tracks include: Country Strong (lead single from the movie’s soundtrack, made it to the top 30 on country radio), Coming Home (nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best original song), Me and Tennessee (current single by Tim McGraw) and A Little Bit Stronger (current single by Sara Evans).

Overall, the cast give it their all. But Country Strong falls flat for tackling too many issues in, what ultimately becomes, a shallow and rushed manner. If they had stuck with the storyline of Kelly reclaiming her career, this movie and Paltrow’s acting would have gotten award recognition, akin to the similarly themed-movie Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges his first Academy Award for best actor.

 

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The Oscars Debrief

This year’s award season to celebrate the high quality 2010 movies is over. The Academy has spoken and The King’s Speech is the big winner.

The ceremony opened up with a very funny bit of montage with this year’s hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, doing acting bits in the Best Picture nominated movies. We were able to watch them be part of Inception, The Social Network, True Grit, The King’s Speech, etc… and it was quite awesome. Anne Hathaway had some awesome lines, notably when, during her “role” in The King’s Speech she says: “we come from the future with good news… we have smaller microphones” or when she freaks out Natalie Portman in Black Swan as the green duck.

And then they started their opening segment which was very dull apart from a couple Hathaway lines about how it’s been a great year for lesbians and how getting naked isn’t enough anymore to warrant a best actress nomination, taking a stab at herself for her mostly nude movie Love and Other Drugs.

Soon after that, Tom Hanks came on to present the first two awards of the night, Art Direction (Alice in Wonderland won) and Cinematography (Inception).

Then, Kirk Douglas came up to present Supporting Actress and I honestly thought it was torture. He kept pushing on the nominees’ buttons and it was pretty interesting to see them getting prepared for the results only to see him divert the subject elsewhere. Melissa Leo won this, as expected, although many had predicted an upset (myself included). Melissa Leo then a very horrible acceptance speech where she dropped the F-word, only to become the night’s go-to joke about acceptance speeches. Literally, everyone who won something referenced her in his acceptance speech.

Melissa Leo

However, soon enough, it began to look like The King’s Speech was not going to own the night as many had predicted. The race was as close as it can be. Soon enough, even Alice in Wonderland had two Oscars.

Supporting Actor went to Christian Bale, as was pretty much expected. So if anyone believes the combination of a Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe doesn’t make you a lock for an Oscar win, this night proved you wrong. The “weakest” frontrunners in the acting categories came out unscathed and victorious.

In the meantime, Anne Hathaway continued a pretty overzealous and energetic hosting job by dressing up as man and taking a stab as Hugh Jackman (Or Huge Jackass as she named him) by singing and dancing about it. And just when you thought she dwarfed Franco beyond measure, he comes up on stage in pink drag. That was probably his most memorable moment. He just looked like he didn’t want to be there.

Anne Hathaway Singing At The Oscars

Continuing with the awards, Inception received both Sound-related awards, to raise its total to three, leading the night. The Social Network scored two quick wins for Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay, as expected.

Then there was a bunch of awards for short films most of us hadn’t watched. Oprah then presented the award for Best Documentary. Inside Job won. I thought Oprah looked dead tired.

Documentary was soon followed by the nerve-wracking Film Editing. It has become known that the movie that wins Film Editing is the favorite to win Best Picture. And in a night where the combination of the awards handed out so far didn’t single out a clear frontrunner, this award looked like it might seal the deal. The Social Network won this and adding to its Adapted Screenplay and Original Score, it looked like we might have a Social Network sweep – again.

Russell Brand and Helen Mirren presented Best Foreign Language Film and Helen Mirren came across yet again as a superb class act by addressing the audience in fluent French. All hail to the queen!

For you animation lovers, this year’s animation phenomenon Toy Story 3 went home with the gold, winning two Oscars, one for Best Animated Feature and the second one for Best Original Song.

Speaking of Best Original Song, there were four performances, the highlight of which was A.R. Rahman and Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine singing “If I Rise”. It was a chills-inducing performance and the song deserved to win. Gwyneth Paltrow sang nominated song “Coming Home” from her latest movie “Country Strong” and I thought she did well. Randy Newman, the writer of Toy Story’s theme song “We Belong Together” mentioned how weird it was not to have a fifth song nominated. And I agree with this. “There’s A Place For Us” by Carrie Underwood for the movie Chronicles of Narnia deserved a nomination.

Later on, Inception reclaimed its title for top movie of the night by earning its fourth Oscar for Visual Effects, a much deserved win – although my heart also wanted Harry Potter to snag its first Academy Award. Which reminds me, The Wolfman won for best makeup. And I thought it was an abomination how this movie gets to flaunt an Academy Award and the whole Harry Potter series has none. Having said that, Deathly Hallows Part 2 better bring it at next year’s Oscars!

Speaking of Harry Potter, there was a funny segment as well about how “musicals” have been an important part of the business this part year. The segment comprised of dialogue parts from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, The Social Network and Twilight, among other movies, transformed into song. I thought it was pretty cool, actually.

And since it’s not the Oscars without a proper “In Memoriam” segment, Celine Dion sang a beautiful rendition of “Smile” to a montage of the pictures of industry people that have left us, commemorating their memory.

Continuing with James Franco still looking like he’d rather be anywhere but the Oscars, we get to the final and most important stretch of the night. The last four awards: Director, actor, actress and picture.

Director comes up. Drumroll, please… and what do you know, it’s our first major upset of the night. Presented by last year’s undeserving winner Kathryn Bigelow (yes, I think The Hurt Locker is such an overrated movie!) Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech overtakes David Fincher for The Social Network, who looked like a frontrunner for this category. Tom Hooper delivered a remarkable speech, telling the story of how if it weren’t for his mother, The King’s Speech wouldn’t have been made. I have to say, British people make the best acceptance speeches. This win, however, brings us back to square zero in our movie frontrunner race. Best Picture is back up for grabs.

The Best Actress category was announced by last year’s Best Actor winner, Jeff Bridges. And honestly, I much preferred last year’s nominees introduction. It just seemed so bland and rushed this year around, like they simply wanted to get it over with. These are five women who gave it their all to be where they were, at least give them the decency of properly introducing them. I still get goosebumps when remembering how Stanley Tucci introduced the great Meryl Streep and how Oprah introduced newcomer Gabourey Sidibe last year… No surprise here, however, Natalie Portman won this. She acted surprised and I thought it wasn’t that credible. Sure, you’re happy and all but come on, you’ve seen this one coming since December. It’s not like Jennifer Lawrence or Michelle Williams or even Annette Bening had a late moment surge in votes. She looked very pregnant and gave a pretty boring speech. I was thankful she did not mention her “sexual activities” with her fiance but she enumerated too many names than I care to remember. Last year’s speech by sweetheart Sandra Bullock beats this by a country mile!

Contrast it with this:

Then it was time for yet another expected category with Best Actor. We all knew Colin Firth was going to win this, but what made the category extra-special was Sandra Bullock’s introduction of the nominees. She walked the line between seriousness and humor so meticulously. She radiated with confidence. I think she should host next year’s Oscars. She is just all kinds of awesome! So yeah, Colin Firth won. He opened up his speech about how he might have hit “the apex of [his] career” and then his speech became another snooze-fest. You’d think after all the rehearsals in the movie he won for and the fact that he is British and it’s in their genes to deliver awesome acceptance speeches, he’d do a better job.

And then it was time for the moment of truth. Which movie would turn out a winner out of the two that are seriously left battling it out?

The King’s Speech came out triumphant, bringing its total to four Oscars, tying it with Inception for first place. The whole cast and producers came on stage, a speech I did not care about ensued.

Following The King’s Speech “expected” win, the P.S. 22 Chorus closed the night with their rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, the winners joined them on stage. And we’re out people!

All in all, I felt last year’s Oscars had more prestige. I thought they didn’t give the movies nominated for Best Picture their due. Each movie had a segment introducing it last year. This time around, the movies were parodied and barely mentioned when their category came up. Maybe the Academy personnel should care about delivering a better ceremony show suitable for the Oscars than a show to attract young viewers?

 

Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win (And Who Should)

The time of the year is here and in preparation for the big event tomorrow, I have decided to post my Oscar predictions.

For the full list of nominees, click here.

Best Picture:

– Who will win: The King’s Speech

– Who should win: Inception.


If you had asked me a month ago what movie was the clear favorite for best picture, I would have easily answered “The Social Network” but having not lost a single guild award it was nominated for and with it building momentum by the minute, it’s hard to see how the movie that is nominated for 12 Academy Awards will lose. However, regardless of the exquisite movie that is The King’s Speech, no other movie apart from Inception deserves this. Out of all the nominated movies, it’s the one that was the most ground-breaking this year and while many believe ground-breaking is not a criteria to warrant a best picture win (I still think Avatar was snubbed last year), in this case it does because Inception is a masterpiece.

Read up on my reviews of Inception and The King’s Speech.

Leading Actor:

– Who will win: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech


– Who should win: James Franco for 127 Hours


This category has 5 nominees. One of them has a 99% chance of winning, James Franco has a little less than 1% and the rest is divided among the other 3. Colin Firth has led a remarkable campaign and if he doesn’t win this tomorrow, it will be the biggest upset of the evening. While brilliant in his portrayal of the stuttering king, I believe James Franco had one of the best acting performances of the year. The whole movie he’s nominated for is built upon his performance, so much in fact that removing his performance out of the equation would render his movie bland. Colin Firth’s performance, while still remarkable, relied heavily on his interaction with Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, which makes Franco’s solo act the more fascinating.

Read up on my review of 127 Hours.

Leading Actress:

– Who will win: Natalie Portman for Black Swan


– Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone


With acting, it’s ultimately a matter of taste. I believe all of the nominated actresses are deserving of a win and it ultimately comes down to the role you preferred and out of the nominated five actresses, the one that struck a cord with me was Jennifer Lawrence in her portrayal of the struggling teenager in the dark Winter’s Bone. Natalie Portman is winning this, the only dark horse being Annette Bening for The Kids Are Alright.

Read up on my review of Winter’s Bone.

Supporting Actor:

– Who will win: Christian Bale for The Fighter

– Who should win: Christian Bale for The Fighter

To think this is the same man who played Batman in Nolan’s reboot of the franchise is daunting. He portrays his pale, drug-addict character brilliantly. He has already grabbed most of the awards related to this category and he’s the obvious frontrunner.

Read up on my review of The Fighter.

Supporting Actress:

– Who will win: Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech


– Who should win: Amy Adams for The Fighter


Out of all the acting categories, this looks like it’ll be the closest one. Up until very recently, Melissa Leo was viewed as the obvious frontrunner in this but leading an Oscar campaign, where she printed out posters calling Academy members to vote for her, has left some people turned off. Add to that an exponentially increasing momentum for The King’s Speech coupled with a BAFTA win for Helena Bonham Carter followed by a brilliant speech and you might have a recipe for an upset. Regardless of that, my favorite out of the bunch remains Amy Adams for her role as the girlfriend trying to guide her significant other to find himself. A very plausible dark horse in this race is the young Hailee Steinfeld who, in my opinion, should have been nominated in the best actress category for her role in True Grit.

Best Director:

– Who will win: David Fincher for The Social Network

– Who should win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

The person who should win this isn’t even nominated. Yes, I’m glaring at the non-existent Academy member that might end up reading this. And for that, this category is almost a lock now for The Social Network’s director even though it looks like Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, is giving him a run for his money.

Read up on my review of The Social Network.

Animated Movie:

– Who will win: Toy Story 3

– Who should win: How To Train Your Dragon

I’ve honestly enjoyed both movies and Toy Story 3, being nominated for best picture as well, is winning this. But my heart goes to How To Train Your Dragon, an animated movie inviting everyone to break away from stereotypes and closed bubble that society enforces upon us.

Cinematography:

– Who will win: Inception

– Who should win: Inception

No other movie deserves these technical awards because, simply, Inception was groundbreaking.

Film Editing:

– Who will win: The Social Network

– Who should win: Inception

Inception, again, isn’t even nominated here. But can you imagine watching that movie if the editing hadn’t been as top-notch as it was? It would make the near-incomprehensible movie basically “Einsteinian”. Out of the nominated movies, two come to mind with strong editing and those are: The Social Network and 127 Hours. In the latter, strong editing serves as a way to take the character away from the two rocks between which he’s stuck, allowing for some really good double-camera work and allowing the viewer to further immerse himself in this story to which he already knows the ending, making it even more fascinating to watch. The Social Network has some really great editing as well as it tells three different stories going on at different times and manages to merge them together in a very coherent way. I believe, because of buzz, The Social Network has the edge.

Visual Effects:

– Who will win: Inception

– Who should win: Inception

Even though Harry Potter is nominated for this and my heart wants it to win, the clear frontrunner here is Inception. And it’s not my bias speaking: an upside-down city, dream within a dream within a dream within a dream construct, a whole glacier-like city in limbo… no other movie deserves this as much as Inception and it will win it.

Adapted Screenplay:

– Who will win: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

– Who should win: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

The Social Network’s strength is its screenplay. It’s witty, fast and engaging. Aaron Sorkin deserves this.

Original Screeplay:

– Who will win: David Seidler for The King’s Speech

– Who should win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

I think this could go either way between both names. Inception won at the Writer’s Guild Awards but The King’s Speech was not eligible for a nomination. I want to see Christopher Nolan win this but I have a feeling it will be another casualty of a King’s Speech sweep.

Original Score:

– Who will win: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for The Social Network

– Who should win: Hans Zimmer for Inception

After winning the Golden Globe, I believe The Social Network’s score has the momentum to take this. But I still stand by the brilliance of Inception’s score. Hans Zimmer has come up with a masterpiece that isn’t being recognized enough.

There are many more categories, of course, but I believe these are the ones most people care about.

True Grit – Movie Review

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of westerns. Telling the story of a one-eyed Marshall helping a young girl to find her dad’s murderer, the movie transcends the Western stereotype I have come to associate with similar movies and found it to be a really enjoyable movie at that.

The Coen brothers’ remake of the 1969 original movie is remarkable, currently nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards with its lead actor and actress nominated for their roles as well.

I will not go into the plot of the movie apart from painting out a general picture. Marshall Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is hired by 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to kill her father’s murderer. On their path, they meet up with a Texas ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon) and together, the continue on their path to find the murderer, overcoming many hurdles.

What is really interesting in the movie is the community they are living in. I’m not sure how accurate a representation the movie is of a 19th century American Western community but the way law was enforced back then is quite fascinating. It it what moves the characters: their will to see justice enforced, regardless of how we currently view justice to be. Do you believe Mattie’s pursuit to kill her dad’s murderer is justified? or is she a hate-blinded fourteen year old? Do you believe Marshall Cogburn is a ruthless man who only seeks money or is he a compassionate person who really wants to see the killer brought to justice?

Jeff Bridges delivers a very strong performance. I cannot draw comparisons to his role in “Crazy Heart” which garnered him an Academy Award. But I have to say, I thought this was a more engaging performance. He delivers his sharp dialogue with a brilliant efficiency, helping the movie in its slow moments. Moreover, his embodiment of the “father-figure” for Mattie is filled with subtle nuances which make him assuming this role quite enjoyable to watch.

The breakthrough here, however, is the amazing Hailee Steinfeld. To say this teenager shines as Mattie Ross is the understatement of the year. Nominated for a supporting actress at the Academy Awards, I believe she belongs in the leading actress category. She is the movie. She is the main acting-driving force. Young as she might be, the other two men rarely do something without her approval – and it isn’t because she’s paying them. She portrays a very strong character and does so marvelously. In my opinion, her acting is the highlight of the movie.

All in all, True Grit might not be my favorite movie this year – especially with all the high-caliber movies that have been released. But True Grit excels at what it’s meant to be: provide an enjoyable Western movie that helps break out the misconceptions some people might have about the genre, while serving as a vehicle for its acting personnel to shine. Look out for a possible Hailee Steinfeld upset at the Oscars this year.

The King’s Speech – Movie Review

The King’s Speech. The frontrunner at this year’s Academy Awards, with 12 nominations, including best picture. Where do I start with this… if there was one performance to top what I think James Franco pulled off with 127 Hours (you can check out the review here), it would be Colin Firth.

His performance in the role of King George VI, the father of current queen of Britain Elizabeth II, is astonishing.

The movie’s plot is, in a nutshell, the unexpected rise of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, to become King George VI after his older brother abdicates the throne. The twist? Prince Albert has a severe stutter that limits everything he does in life – from the moment he was a kid. So the movie is him, trying to learn ways to cope and overcome this stutter.

Any actor that can pull off that stutter for almost two hours deserves recognition. The stutter is so limiting, as I said, that there are moments where you simply hold your breath for this man as he tries to utter words that don’t come out. There are other moments where you feel utter joy for him as sentences pour out of his mouth. Regardless of whether you actually know the history of Britain (I don’t), Colin Firth is beyond credible in his impersonation of the character he portrays. He is up for best actor at the Oscars and is the favorite to win. And in all honesty, if either he or James Franco won, I wouldn’t mind.

Off to the other cast in the movie. The other two notable actors are Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. Geoffrey Rush was amazing. Probably my favorite in the best supporting actor race, although he will not win. His role is the unconventional speech coach Albert hires to help him with the stutter. His interaction with Colin Firth on screen is gold.

Helena Bohman Carter was very good as well as the supporting wife. She’s always in the background. But she’s like the catalyst that gets things going. She is up for best supporting actress for her role in this.

There’s a couple of scenes that I think were brilliant but I can’t divulge them here so I don’t spoil them to anyone. However, to conclude this, the movie does not have dull moments. It keeps you engaged throughout.

And it also makes you want to visit London.

Another interesting thing to ask is, what would the current queen of Britain think about this movie?

Here’s the trailer: