Monday, February 18, 2013

Almost Home ~ Mariah Carey (Review)



It is becoming rare these days that Hollywood big-budget movie theme songs are performed by big-voiced crooners. Back in the day, especially in the 90’s, it was a norm to have popular names such as Bette Midler (“Beaches”) Whitney Houston (“The Bodyguard”), Celine Dion (“Beauty and The Beast”, “Titanic”), Elton John (“The Lion King”) and even Faith Hill (“Pearl Harbour”) attached to film projects. A diva in glittery gown singing big notes while the movie’s clips roll nostalgically in slow motion would usually appear in the promotional music video which would be played in heavy rotation on channels like MTV. Well, that was also when MTV was playing music, not Snooki or teen moms.

Thank heaven! Disney is staying true to its tradition of movie torch songs by choosing Mariah Carey, a legitimate diva, arguably the last one standing, to sing “Almost Home”, the theme song of their latest franchise, “Oz the Great and Powerful”. Co-written by Mariah Carey, hence the Hero-styled lyrics and produced by Stargate, the Norwegian production team, responsible for many of today’s big hits (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Neyo etc). Slightly auto-tuned vocals, not because it’s necessary, we are talking about one of the best singing voices of our human race here, but to fit the chirpy inspirational mood of the song and also to match Stargate’s signature electronic beats which decorate the song with pop effects while effectively making it radio-friendly.

In the singing department, Mariah keeps it pretty simple, singing along a catchy chorus comfortably in her still-very strong and gorgeous mid-range till the bridge part where a key change suddenly appears and she becomes the Mariah that we all fell in love with (or that some folks can’t simply stand) – throwing in vocal embellishments and a long belted money note right before the song ends.

Like you won’t compare the film to 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz”, it would be utterly unfair to say “Almost Home” is nowhere near the greatness of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. This mid-tempo tune, surprisingly, not a ballad that everyone expected, is a perfect fit for what appears to be yet another CGI-heavy fantasy flick, though no one has seen it. With “Oh-oh-oh” in the chorus, the most abused and used element in today’s popular music, it sounds très current. Besides, the song’s lyrics could very well serve as a touching “farewell” to the eliminated contestants of American Idol where Mariah is currently a judge.

When you're almost there and you're almost home
Just open up your eyes and go, go 
When you're almost there, almost home
Know you're not alone, you're almost home, home
(You're almost home)

Mariah may not dominate the music charts like she used to in the last two decades with this song, she still has millions of die-hard fans who can’t get enough of her. Therefore efforts should be made to delight them by giving them what they want which is “her golden voice” and not further alienate them by trying to stay current or compete with trend-chasing young pop tarts.

Unlike her last year’s lackluster single, “Triumphant (Get’em)”- “Almost Home” is more than enough to get her fans excited about her eleventh studio which will be dropped this year. 








Wednesday, February 6, 2013

~ The Annual Oscar Predictions (2013) ~




Best Picture:
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Lincoln"
"Les Miserables"
"Life of Pi"
"Amour"
"Django Unchained"
"Argo"

Wait, what?  “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Down Part II” isn’t nominated for “Best Picture”???  

(Nah, just kidding!)
It was a great year for France last year, with “Artist” winning major awards but this year has got to be the most American year in cinema. Apart from “Amour” “Life of Pi” and “Les Miserables”, all six other films depict America or apply American history as core theme. Genre wise, there’s something for everyone. Carefully crafted political dramas (“Argo”, “Zero Dark Thirty”), light-hearted comedy with an uplifting message (“Silver Linings Playbook”), customary performance-heavy biopic (“Lincoln”), action-packed Tarantino style western, (“Django Unchained”), Hollywood grand-scale musical (“Les Miserables”), epic CGI-heavy extravaganza (“Life Of Pi”) and last but not least, inspiring indies that are actually about humans and about the issues that we can all relate. (“Amour” & “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”)
Who should win: “Argo”- A movie that does not allow you to have a bathroom break, forcefully pinning you to your seat from beginning to end. Since the story is based on an actual happening, The Canadian Caper, the CIA rescue mission of six Americans who escaped during the seizure of American Embassy in Iran in 1979, you do know that there’s a happy ending. Yet you can’t help but tensely suffer along with the characters in the movie, sweaty palms and fast-beating hearts, which is of course a successful outcome of splendid storytelling, detailed direction and awesome acting from a cohesive cast. “Argo” is a winner not because of a stand out individual but because everyone involved chips in a great deal of good work. Everything seems just right. (2005’s Best Picture winner “Crash” comes to mind.)

Who will win:  “Argo”- The Academy has already caused an upset for snubbing movie’s director, Ben Affleck. It would only be criminal if this movie failed to win.

Best Supporting Actress:
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Amy Adams, "The Master"

All five actresses have been nominated at least once, twice or more before. Some already have had the privilege to decorate their living room with the golden statue, not one but two in Sally Field’s case. While Amy Adams, in her fourth nomination, is long overdue to win, her performance in “The Master” is not flashy enough, rather minimal in fact; or to positively spin it, restrained. So is Jacki Weaver’s role as a mother of a son with bipolar disorder. Not to say, both performances aren’t good, only that there are better performances by their costars in the same movies, which unfortunately overshadow theirs. (Adams Vs. Hoffman in “The Master”, similarly, Weaver Vs. De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook").
Moreover, it is unlikely that the voters would want to upset Hollywood’s darling dearest, Anne Hathaway. There’s no way Helen Hunt’s quietly brilliant performance as a professional sex surrogate in “The Sessions” could triumph over Hathaway’s Fantine in “Les Miserables”. If you ever wonder what it must sound like when a heart breaks, listen to her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” and it certainly is louder than Jennifer Hudson belting out “And I’m Telling You” in “Dreamgirls”- That performance alone is strong enough to carry Anne towards her Oscar glory. 
Who should/will win: Anne Hathaway

Best Supporting Actor:
Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
It’s just a matter of which dude takes home his second Oscar. Alan Arkin had his Judi Dench moment a few years back for winning in “Little Miss Sunshine”, a questionable win to many. (Dench’s 8-minute performance “Shakespeare in Love” as well won her the gold in 1999.) Both are consistently great actors but it’s ridiculous to award them in movies where they are barely there. Why not give them “Lifetime Achievement Award” instead. That being said, Arkin in “Argo” is memorable. His character in the movie not only brings hope but also provides a much-needed comic relief.

Truth to be told, “Best Supporting Actor/Actress” category is where surprises happen. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro, both brilliant in lending support to their respective films with their marvelous acting, could upset Christoph Waltz who is highly tipped to triumph. Possibly because it has been a long time since their last Oscars and Waltz took home his first Oscar just two years ago in the same category playing a somewhat similar role in “Inglorious Basterds”. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in “The Master” is truly unforgettable but sadly forgotten by now as the movie was released a while ago. Voters are certainly going to give it a miss.
Who should/will win: Christoph Waltz – charming, witty but ruthless and dangerous when necessary as a bounty hunter extraordinaire, Waltz is mesmerizing. Although playing a secondary character, along side two major movie stars, Jamie Foxx and Leonado Dicaprio, everyone knows who the real scene-stealer in “Django Unchained” is.


Best Director:
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Who should win: Ben Affleck for “Argo” (who’s not even nominated)

Who will win: Steven Spielberg. Whatever Spielberg touches turns to gold. The movie, already nominated for 12 Oscars, the most of all films nominated, explains why no one would dispute when he eventually took home his third directing Oscar.




Best Actor:
Daniel Day Lewis, "Lincoln"
Denzel Washington, "Flight"
Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"

Veterans (Lewis, Washington & Phoenix) Vs. First Timers (Jackman & Cooper). Unlike “Best Actress” category, it is packed with solid performances that deserve recognition regardless of whoever eventually wins. Denzel Washington as a pilot-on-a-downward-spiral in “Flight” is by far his career best. (Even better than his second Oscar win, for playing a bad cop in “Training Day”) With “Les Miserables” Hugh Jackman proves that he’s more than just Wolverine. Not only does he sing like an angel but also is capable of taking on challenging iconic roles such as Jean Valjean. Similarly, Bradley Cooper sheds his usual skin as the handsome leading man who occasionally goofs up or kicks ass in movies with “Silver Linings Playbook”; he masterfully manages to get both chuckles and tears out of audience. 

Who should win: Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled World War II veteran struggling to adjust to post-war society in “The Master”, is acting tour de force. His commitment to his character is astonishing. That being said, his sour attitude towards awards and recognition will deter him from winning. In our human world, those who are humble and grateful get often rewarded. And Hollywood is no different. But obviously, Phoenix doesn’t care. He probably won’t even show up. 

Who will win: Daniel Day Lewis or shall we say, Meryl Streep in male form, is convincingly Lincoln, from the way he strokes his sideburns to delivering the history-making speech. The man spent a year preparing for this role and during that time, he read over 100 books about Lincoln. It takes a lot of guts to play someone this iconic and Hollywood salutes gutsy actors. Like Streep as Thatcher last year, Lewis as Lincoln is nothing but monumental.

Best Actress:
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Usually a tight category filled with ostentatious performances, this year marks one of the weakest races ever. No schizophrenic ballerina, No Nazi jail guard or No Meryl Streep. Yes, is that even possible? (Although Streep’s performance in “Hope Springs” could easily rival or even outshine any of the candidates in the category) The Oscars love nominating young actresses (Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) to name a few, sometimes even resulting in eventual wins (Tatum O’Neal (“Paper Moon”), Anna Paquin (“The Piano”), although many of these cases were in “Best Supporting Actress” category.

This year, Quvenzhané Wallis is a surprise nominee and the youngest ever to be nominated. Only six years old when the film was made, her candid yet captivating performance shoulders “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”. But we are talking about Oscars here; it’s holier than thou and especially Wallis, a now 8 year old, in her acting debut. She’ll have to wait. And… let’s not forget Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour”- her portrayal of an elderly woman and her struggles of old age in her twilight years shows incredible range as an actress. As painful and difficult it is to watch, we couldn’t help but sympathize with her. If she wins she will become the oldest “Best Actress” winner beating the previous record holder, Jessica Tandy (“Driving Miss Daisy”) but that is not going to happen unfortunately.

Naomi Watts’s tsunami survivor in “The Impossible” as well is great but frankly, not Oscar-worthy. Unless they are looking for “Halle Berry’s win” kind of shock, Watts stands no chance. So that comes down to the two Hollywood sweethearts, Jennifer Lawrance and Jessica Chastain. Both have seen their careers soar from strength to strength in recent years.

Who should win: Jennifer Lawrance, in her most exciting role yet. As a young widow and a sex addict in “Silver Linings Playbook”, Lawrance is hilarious, annoying, pitiful, charming, gallant and most importantly, vulnerable.

Who will win:  Jessica Chastain- “Zero Dark Thirty” does not give her enough substance to let her craft shine. As an Osama-chasing CIA agent, she plays her part well but it is just not an Oscar material. Period. She will be awarded though for two possible reasons. A) She is playing an unsung hero. B) The story paints a pivotal moment in modern American history. “Zero Dark Thirty”, let’s just say, isn’t “Silence Of The Lamb”. Nor Chastain’s character, Maya is Clarice Starling, not even close. But if she does win the Oscar, there’s always her electrifying, scene-stealing turn as Celia Foote in last year’s “The Help” to remind us of how great of an actress Chastain is.

Best Original Screenplay:
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Django Unchained"
"Moonrise Kingdom"
"Amour"
"Flight"

Who should win: Quentin Tarantino "Django Unchained"– The New York Times critic A.O. Scott says “Django Unchained is entertaining, brazenly irresponsible and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness." 

Who will win: Mark Boal “Zero Dark Thirty” – “the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man," Need I say more?



Best Adapted Screenplay:
"Lincoln"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Argo"
"Life of Pi"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Who should/will win: "Argo"

Best Cinematography:
"Skyfall"
"Anna Karenina"
"Django Unchained"
"Life of Pi"
"Lincoln"
Who should win: "Life Of Pi" – stunning imagery; innovative cinematography that also understands the importance of subtlety while keeping the perfect balance between reality and imaginary.
Who will win: "Lincoln"- purposely monotonous throughout yet a few epic shots displaying masterful use of natural light could propel the film’s cinematographer to victory. Camerawork in “Lincoln” is kept unpretentious and mostly minimal, without going over the top or being too distracting, which essentially compliments the performance-driven film.

Best Costume Design:
"Anna Karenina"
"Les Miserables"
"Lincoln"
"Mirror Mirror"
"Snow White and the Huntsman"

Who should & will win: “Anna Karenina” ~ The depiction of Russian Aristocracy goes a little overboard with opulent hats, fur coats, jewelries and gowns, to a point that the audience is no longer interested in what is going to happen but what Anna (Kiera Knightly) will wear in the next scene but we are not complaining. We love all couture galore!

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
"Hitchcock"
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Les Miserables"
Who will and should win: Transforming a recognizable Anthony Hopkins into his character, Alfred Hitchcock can’t be that easy. Thanks to the makeup team, Hopkins could bury himself under the prosthetics without a trace and effectively become Hitchcock.  

Best Music (Original Score):
"Anna Karenina"
"Argo"
"Life of Pi"
"Lincoln"
"Skyfall"

Who will and should win: “Life Of Pi” –a melancholy, contemplative and earthy soundtrack. This year’s “Slum Dog Millionaire” without the dance numbers.

Best Foreign Feature 

"Amour"

"Kon-Tiki"
"A Royal Affair"
"No"
"War Witch"
Who will and should win: “Amour” – While the film will likely get shut out in major categories including "Best Actress" and "Best Original Screenplay"- this inevitable win will at least compensate the Austrian film maker Michael Haneke for his poignant plot and powerful performances by the film's two leading actors. 



Best Music (Original Song):

"Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice"
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from "Ted"
"Pi's Lullaby" from "Life of Pi"
"Skyfall" from "Skyfall"
"Suddenly" from "Les Misérables"
Who will and should win: "Skyfall" by Adele. Do folks even know what other nominated songs sound like?  This is the year of Adele. No other James Bond theme in recent years (Not even Madonna (“Die Another Day”) could capture the true essence of James Bond like “Skyfall”). It takes us back to Shirley Bassey’s time, an era of great big orchestral music and soaring female voices; and about being a sex kitten as well as a femme fatale. Only Adele could show you how to merge these two contrasts together. GOLD!