It's time for for Super Bowl XLIX: The Battle of Just Two Armies. The Seattle Seahawks are going Into the evening are hoping to Deliver another excellent Game following last year's Imitation effort by the Broncos.
The NFL has been in the hot seat over the past year, with Roger Goodell consistently on the Edge of being fired. Every Judge in the nation believes the league has been keeping an Untold Secret about that Ray Rice incident (where he told his fiancee to Get On Up from that elevator floor).
The Seahawks' American Football Conference rival is the New England Patriots. Of course, the big Theory is that the Pats deflated 11 of their 12 AFC Championship game footballs, which had a noticable Drop in weight. The Indianapolis Colts calling this complete Sabotage.
The Patriots press conferences have been Dumb and Dumber To. Tom Brady's been sniffling his way through interviews and practices, and as coach Bill Belichick should know, No Good Deed goes without punishment.
Drones are not allowed to fly over Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium during the game, or their owners will be arrested by Cops. This would be just one of A Million Ways to Die in the West. And halftime show singer Katy Perry will likely stir-up an Awkward Moment or two.
I predict that the Patriots will be having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, losing to the Seahawks in a blazing Fury: 42-14. This Super Bowl could still be a Wild, Non-Stop thrill ride, but I think the Seahawks will retain their title as the Guardians of the NFL Galaxy.
[Side Note: At no point will this Game Stand Tall.]
This year's group of five Oscar nominees in the Best Animated Short Film category is the strongest I've ever seen, so coming-up with a clear frontrunner is not easy. Here are the Nominees:
"The Bigger Picture" (8 min., UK) - The style is groundbreaking, with a mix of life-size claymation figures and set pieces, as well as paintings. The story is heavy - two brothers taking care of their elderly, and eventually dying mother. Authentic to a tee, but rather depressing. B-
"The Dam Keeper" (18 min., USA) - This is my favorite of the group. Brought to life with more than 8,000 paintings, the story centers around a grade-school pig who has a very important job - taking care of the dam that protects the town. Pig is also bullied at school for being dirty. But that all changes when he's befriended by a new student, Fox. With some raw and surprisingly powerful scenes, including a shockingly serious turn in the second half, this is daring and often brilliant. A-
"Feast" (6 min., USA) - It's the most widely-seen of the group since Disney debuted it in theaters before "Big Hero 6". This is about a dog named Winston who loves human food, and his owner who begins a human relationship that directly effects Winston's eating habits. It's a little simple, but charming, sweet and satisfying, though I would've chopped-out an unnecessary extended ending. B-
"Me and My Moulton" - (13 min., Canada & Norway) - A Moulton is a unique style bicycle. And even though it's in the title. this isn't exactly what the short focuses on. Rather, it's about a middle-daughter of a quirky family, who's living, what she believes, is an imperfect life. The animation is light and bright and there are some clever moments. But it's the serious and surprisingly deep themes that stand out. B
"A Single Life" - (2 min., Netherlands) - All I will delve into about this CGI short is that a woman receives a record of a song called "A Single Life". She begins to play it, and what happens next is rather unique and a little bizarre, but original, funny and quite memorable. B
And the four "Highly Commended" shorts shown are:
"Sweet Cocoon" - (6 min., France) - All-too-predictable story, low-level animation and a terrible ending. C-
"Footprints" - (4 min., USA) - Bill Plympton's latest has a decent concept but a disappointing payoff. C
"Duet" - (4 min., USA) - Legendary Disney artist Bill Keane's beautiful love story. B+
"Bus Story" - (11 min., Canada) - Solid tale of a quirky bus driver in a small town. C+
On The Official LCJ Report Card, the "2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation", overall, gets a B. Seek it out at a nearby theater before Oscar Night on Sunday, February 22nd. And my prediction for which short film will win The Oscar will be announced, along with my picks in all the other categories, in mid-February.
The trailers that The Weinstein Company released for "Paddington" were noisy and slapstick-heavy, making this family adventure, based on the iconic children's book character, appear to be dreadful. They also decided to push the US opening date back from Christmas Day to the middle of January, normally a move made when a studio realizes that their film is dreadful.
But then I started noticing something amazing: glowing reviews for "Paddington" began to pop-up everywhere online, from both the US and the UK. And then the film received two BAFTA nominations (the British equivalent of The Oscars), including one for Best Adapted Screenplay. All of them made me begin to wonder - "Can it really be that good?" Well, to my pleasant surprise, "Paddington" is that good, indeed.
Paul King, a British indie writer and TV director who never helmed a "commercial" film before, deserves much of the credit. I'm sure offers for new projects are already pouring in for King, whose unique and magical vision shines throughout "Paddington". Numerous imaginative scenes involving such things as a life-size doll house of the Brown home that comes to life, toys of all shapes and sizes and an recurring calypso band supply a "live" soundtrack could easily have come from the minds of Wes Anderson or Tim Burton, but King makes every bold element on display his own.
The opening scenes take us deep in the jungles of Peru, where we are supplied, via newsreel footage, with Paddington Bear's backstory: A British explorer discovered the rare domesticated bear species and told the bears he encountered they would be welcome as friends if they ever visited England. Following a Disney-esque event, Paddington's aunt sends the young bear (voiced by "Skyfall"'s Ben Whishaw) off alone to London, to find a new family, complete with that famous "Please take care of this bear" tag.
The Brown family notices the bear at the Paddington train station (that's how he gets his name) and decides to take him in for the night. Mr. Brown (played by "Downton Abbey"'s Hugh Bonneville) wants Paddington to immediately be taken to the authorities, while Mrs. Brown (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) thinks their new visitor might benefit their two children and add some much-needed life to their home.
Similar to the animated character of Captain DuBois in "Madagascar 3", Nicole Kidman plays an evil taxidermist named Millicent who learns that Paddington is in London and wants to make him the masterpiece of her extensive collection. Kidman, thankfully, plays it relatively straight-forward.
"Paddington" doesn't rely much on big laughs in order to satisfy its audience. There are a few quality one-liners, such as a narrator stating "There are 107 ways Londoners say 'It's raining'", as well as a well done running joke involving the marmalade sandwich Paddington keeps in his hat and some pigeons. There are a couple of slapstick scenes (which are amusing enough), but they are far from dominant in the story.
Many of Britain's finest came-out to be a part of this adventure: "Doctor Who", Peter Capaldi, plays the Browns' neighbor, Jim Broadbent is an antique shop owner, Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton voice Paddington's aunt and uncle, and Julie Walters plays the Browns' wise housekeeper. They, along with the young actors who play the Brown children, all deliver at the right tone for this fable.
The CGI work of the Paddington character is excellent and Whishaw's voice work is a perfect fit. Originally, Colin Firth was picked to be the voice of Paddington, but late in production, the casting switch was made. This turned out to be a great decision, as Firth's distinctive voice would have been too identifiable and mature for the young, mischievous bear.
Overall, this is a crowning achievement, and one of the best adaptations of children's story to a live-action film in recent memory. It has the perfect balance of humor, hijinks and heart.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Paddington" gets an A-. To paraphrase a line from one of Paddington's distant relatives: "It's smarter than the average bear movie".
"Black or White" is inspired by true events and stars Kevin Costner as Elliot, a successful lawyer who works and lives in an affluent areas of Los Angeles. We learn in the opening scenes that his wife has just died in a car accident. The couple had custody of their young, African American granddaughter Eloise (played by Jillian Estell) because her mother, their daughter, died while giving birth to Eloise when she was only 17. The girl's father, a drug addict and criminal, was in and out of prison and not in the picture. He is also black.
The following day Elliot, who's been treating years of pain with excessive alcohol use, shares the news of the death with Eloise after school. It's a nicely executed, heartbreaking scene.
Shortly after the services, Elliot learns that Eloise's other grandmother, Rowena (played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) has decided to seek full custody of Eloise, and bring her to Compton to live with her extensive family. She feels the girl needs the love of her relatives and to be exposed to the black culture and community, which she's not getting now. Elliot won't give-up his granddaughter and Eloise wants to stay with him. So the battle for custody of this little girl is on, with race playing a major role in the strategies used by both sides.
Anthony Mackie gives a career-best performance as Rowena's brother, Jeremiah, an accomplished lawyer who will represent her side in court. He's determined to make this case all about Black vs. White, painting Elliot as a racist. Rowena reluctantly gives-in to this strategy since it may be the best way for them to win custody. And the fight for Eloise gets ugly, portrayed through a series of incidents, confrontations and courtroom scenes. And Eloise's father returns, complicating things even more.
"Black or White" deals with more tricky, hot-topic issues than it can handle, including death, child custody, substance abuse, and most of all racial tension. You'd think this would mean that it's a straightforward drama. But writer/director Mike Binder (whose last film was the 2007 Adam Sandler/Don Cheadle drama "Reign Over Me") mixes in a surprising amount of light material, including an upbeat compilation of music, a goofy girlfriend of Elliot's lawyer partner, and an over-the-top math tutor hired by Elliot to help his granddaughter. Each of these is constantly interrupting the dramatic tension and flow of the main narrative.
The result is an uneven film in both story and tone, with the positives slightly outweighing the negatives. Costner is excellent in several showcase scenes, and Spencer is solid as a proud woman with a good heart who's blinded by the love for her family. Andre Holland ("42", "Selma") dominates the screen time in the film's second half as Eloise's biological father, who says he's trying to clean up his act, but is losing that fight. This subplot gets a little too much attention.
While watching "Black or White", I was thinking back to the classic child custody film, "Kramer vs. Kramer". What made that 1979 Best Picture winner truly work was the relationship between Dustin Hoffman's Ted and his son Billy. The courtroom scenes did not dominate the film, or take away from the father-son story. It's the exact opposite in "Black or White", as the focus becomes more legal and less emotional as the film progresses.
At times, "Black or White" is quite effective, moving, and daring in dealing with its controversial topics. However, Binder just as often plays it safe, getting both heavy-handed and light in sections that just didn't need either. If handled better, this could've been a very powerful movie. Instead, it falls short of being both a gripping film and a fresh commentary on race relations.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Black or White" gets a disappointing C+.
I never thought it was possible that an awful trailer for a film could turn out to be better than the actual movie. But, as he seems to do in every film - whether as a wacky character, or in a wild costume, or just with his performance - Johnny Depp has stunned me yet again. "Mortdecai", which Depp both produced and stars in, left me mortified.
Depp has, once again, typecast himself into his unique brand of quirkiness, playing a bumbling Brit with a bloody bothersome accent named Lord Charlie Mortdecai. He is an art aficionado whose latest "masterpiece" is his own mustache. Depp reportedly had multiple versions of it on set - no wonder it looks so ridiculously fake on screen.
The plot can be described in one sentence: Mortdecai learns that a famous painting has been stolen and he goes to great lengths, with his bodyguard and loyal manservant Jock (played by Paul Bettany) to get it back. There's also a whole lot of nothing involving Charlie's wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), a British inspector (Ewan McGregor) who's had a crush on Johanna for more than two decades (somebody should tell him to move on while he still can) and a slew of others who want the rare painting for themselves. Jeff Goldblum plays one of them. He's fresh-off of another "painting heist" comedy, "The Grand Budapest Hotel". I wasn't a big fan of Wes Anderson's latest zany effort, but it's an all-time classic compared to "Mordecai".
The script was written by Eric Aronson, whose only previous credit is the 2001 film, "On the Line", which starred Joey Fatone and Lance Bass. Enough said. The story runs around in so many circles, like a dog chasing its tail, and by the time we reach the end there isn't one hint of satisfaction. Out of the 106 minute runtime there isn't moment of enjoyment or quality. EVERYTHING is wrong, from the low-level plot, to the copycat "Monty Python"/ "Pink Panther"-esque lead character, the embarrassing supporting performances, humorless stunts and gags, and clumsy camerawork and editing. I didn't laugh once, and the five other people in the theater were dead quiet as well.
As for Depp, it only took two months after his short, yet impressive performance as The Wolf in "Into the Woods", to get him on back my list of least reliable actors in Hollywood. Hard to believe he, an everyone else involved in this mess, believed they were working on something anyone would want to see.
Shockingly, "Mortdecai" is based on a novel by the late Kyril Bonfiglioli, who was an art dealer. It had a much funnier title - Don't Point That Thing at Me. But the novel was written more than 40 YEARS AGO! No wonder nothing about this version seems fresh or original. Slow, stale and so silly that it can't be taken seriously, even as a farce, "Mortdecai" is the classic example of a movie project gone wrong and buried by a studio in the month of January. However, in this case, Lionsgate didn't bury it deep enough. This not only belongs six-feet under, but with a high-rise built on top of it so there's absolutely no chance it could ever see the light of day.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Mortdecai" gets an F. Even though we're only four weeks into the year, it will be a serious contender for 'Worst Film of 2015' honors.