The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Award-worthy (?) films
In the weeks leading up to the Oscars there will be some chances to see some of the films:

• Oscar movie marathon: Want to see all 10 at once? Block out the next two Saturdays — Feb. 19 and Feb. 26 — for day-long screenings of five movies on each day at the AMC Methuen, 90 Pleasant St. in Methuen, Mass., 978-738-8942 (look for details at Tickets cost $35.

• Shorts! Red River Theatres, 11 S. Main St. in Concord, will screen nominated shorts on Thursday, Feb. 17. See

• Documentaries: Red River Theatres will also be screening nominated documentaries. See website for details.

Oscar fun
• Think you can predict the winners? Head to to play their Oscar predictions game (with points for guessing correctly and penalties for guessing wrong). Check for Wilton Town Hall Theatre’s annual  predictions contest.

• The Razzies, the Golden Raspberry Awards for the year’s most craptacular films, will be handed out on Saturday, Feb. 26, starting at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time. See for the nominees and to check back for the “winners.” Occasionally, some classy soul (last year it was Sandra Bullock) will show up to accept their award. This year’s nominees for worst picture are The Bounty Hunter, The Last Airbender, Sex and the City 2, Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Vampires Suck.

• Tickets may still be available for the Red Carpet Awards Oscar-watching party at Red River Theatres, 11 S. Main St. in Concord, 224-4600,, on Sunday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $60 in advance, $75 on the day. Dress up and walk your own red carpet on the way in. The event will include hors d’oeuvres by O Steaks & Seafood, a tasting of beer and wine, desserts, prizes and more.

• E!’s annual Live from the Red Carpet broadcast usually gets under way at 6 p.m. but tune in around 7 p.m. for the best people-watching opportunities. ABC will also broadcast an official red carpet starting at 6:30 p.m.

• The 83rd Academy Awards starts at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27, on ABC.

10 hopefuls, one statue
A look at this year’s Best Film nominees

By Amy Diaz

With the ceremony on the horizon and most movies available on DVD or video on demand or in theaters, I took a second look at the 10 nominees for best film at this year’s Academy Awards.

127 Hours (R)

Initial impression: The one where James Franco cuts his arm off. B

Second chance: Franco’s very solid performance and the smart editing help the movie overcome some built-in difficulties (it’s a movie about one guy trapped in a small space and the big action moment happens at the end and everybody’s waiting for it). The movie plays with color and energy to make the early scenes of Aron Ralston  hiking visually and tonally different from the scenes of him pinned by the arm in a tight canyon and from segments where he flashes back to earlier moments in his life. The movie is just as gross and occasionally hard to watch as I remember (and not just because of the arm) — for example, what do you drink when you run out of water? Still a B.

Standout: Nifty camera tricks and flashbacks aside, Franco has to carry this movie himself — to grow believably more haggard and despondent as his time stuck in the canyon progresses. He does an admirable job with this.

Must see? Not if you have a hair-trigger gag reflex. Or, frankly, if you are bored easily. This is a tough one because while I’m glad I saw it and even rather enjoyed seeing it again, it would just never be on my rewatch list. If the movie sounds like it isn’t for you, there’s probably no good reason to make yourself watch it.
On DVD: Yes.

Black Swan (R)
Initial impression: Director Darren Aronofsky delivers high entertainment with this totally strange and darkly funny movie about Nina, an at-the-edge-of-her-rope ballerina (Natalie Portman). B+

Second chance: This movie is still darkly funny — a fun mix of highly dramatic moments and little throwaway moments. There has been some film critic discussion of whether or not this represents camp — there certainly are some campy moments but overall the film is perhaps too well-crafted to be on a list with the likes of Country Strong and Burlesque, two recent more thoroughly campy films. One example is the movie’s soundtrack — not just the music but all the sound effects that go into the movie. The music of Swan Lake is used to great effect but it is never so loud that we don’t still hear the muffled taps of ballet shoes or the snap of bones. That plus the strange cacophony of voices and laughter that torment Nina makes for a mix of sounds that tell the story as well as the visuals. And, though I don’t think it’s necessarily Oscar-worthy, Portman’s performance interested me more the second time I saw the movie. For the right person, this movie could go as high as an A-.

Standout: Whom do you credit with pulling together such a trippy film? The editor? The director? It’s the way all the elements in this movie came together — even more than the elements themselves — that make Black Swan such a treat.

Must see? Maybe — this movie strikes me as something of a chick flick thriller. Which is not to say that men won’t like it (there is that Portman/Mila Kunis bedroom scene after all), but if you’re a girl and you like suspense films Black Swan is probably your kind of movie. Aronofsky completists should also check it out as it is an entertainingly different kind of film for him.

On DVD: No word yet when the film is headed to DVD; it is still in theaters.

The Fighter (R)
Initial impression: This fairly typical story of an underdog boxer — Lowell’s Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) — and his family is made extraordinary by its performances, particularly from Melissa Leo as Micky’s mother and Christian Bale as his crack-addicted brother Dicky. A-

Second chance: On second viewing, Wahlberg seems a little less like the guy giving the quiet performance and a little more like a guy who occasionally turns into a lump that the movie ignores in favor of the bigger characters played by Bale and Leo. But this is still a solid, if fairly standard, underdog boxing movie with extremely good texture. I’m borderline B+/A- on second viewing, so I’ll give the movie the benefit of the doubt and stick with A-

Standout: I’ve heard (I believe it was on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast) some of the performances here described as “most acting by an actor.” And, yes, Leo and Bale in particular get to be big and bold with their big, bold characters. But in this movie, I think it works. Their performances are what make it more than just Cinderella Man in 1980s Lowell.

Must see? Not imperative but the movie is enjoyable. It’s a movie sports fans and serious movie lovers can agree on.

On DVD: No word yet when the film is headed to DVD; it is still in theaters.

Inception (PG-13)
Initial impression: Very cool special effects and an interesting concept — people who steal secrets from others by entering and controlling their dreams (extraction, as the movie called it) — made this action-suspense movie by Christopher Nolan one of the bright spots of last summer. B+

Second chance: Leonardo DiCaprio, playing the leader of a team of thieves trying to break into the mind of Cillian Murphy, is fine here but not a stand-out. You suspect while watching this — and the feeling is stronger the second time around — that somebody else could have really made something interesting of the part, perhaps someone like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who plays his partner in crime). Ellen Page, as the newbie to the extraction world, does feel like a poor fit and the character of Marion Cotillard, who plays DiCaprio’s wife, feels thin — more melodrama than genuine emotion. With characters and plot on the sidelines, it’s the movie’s action sequences and special effects that really shine: the fight scene in a gravity-free hallway, the dream “levels” where five minutes in one is an hour in another, the strange video-game-like  progression through the mental maze. Unfortunately, this makes up only about 90 minutes of a nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie. On second viewing, I found myself bored by the movie’s opening 30 to 40 minutes, entertained by the action but then irritated by the final scene, which seems like even more of a cop-out than it initially did. B

Standout: Cinematography? Art direction? Visual effects? I’m not really sure which category deserves the credit for the way the action looks in this movie (it is nominated in all three categories) but that is clearly the movie’s strong suit.

Must see? If you are road testing a new HD TV and/or have the two-plus hours to kill, then yes. Otherwise, The Dark Knight did dark action better.

On DVD: Yes.

The Kids Are All Right (R)
Initial impression: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple whose children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) seek out their biological father (Mark Ruffalo). It is a gimmicky setup but a smart and funny dramady about marriage and family. A

Second chance: Man, this is smart writing — that was one of my first thoughts as I began to watch this movie again. This movie truly earns its spot as one of the best of 2010. A\

Standout: An argument for deserving an Academy Award could be made for any of the main five performances — Wasikowska, Hutcherson, Bening, Moore and Ruffalo. The kids here are indeed all right — both Wasikowska and Hutcherson are believable teenagers with layers to their personalities. Ruffalo (who is, in this movie more than in any other, a serious hottie) is excellent as an aging hipster. And Bening and Moore are great — both together as a couple with a serious married dynamic and in their individual performances as people facing the major life milestone of their first child heading to college.

Must see? Unless your movie diet consists entirely of movies with the name “Bruckheimer” in the credits, yes.

On DVD: Yes.

The King’s Speech (R)
Initial impression: A rather lightweight but still perfectly executed movie staring Colin Firth as King George VI, the U.K.’s World War II monarch, and Geoffrey Rush as the speech therapist who helps him overcome a stammer. A

Second chance: On second viewing, Firth is still delightful while Rush seems a little more hammy (but tastefully so). I still got chills from the final segment — the delivery of the titular speech — but the rest of the movie seems a little more straightforwardly Oscar bait in the traditional sense. B+

Standout: Firth’s performance is the absolute best thing about the film. Perhaps it’s not the best performance he’s ever given (for that see A Single Man from last year), but it is the best of this year’s “best actor” nominees.

Must see? If you like a good period piece or Colin Firth, definitely yes.

On DVD: No word yet when the film is headed to DVD; it is still in theaters.

The Social Network (R)
Initial impression: This biopic about the founding of Facebook is full of fun touches, courtesy of writer Aaron Sorkin, who put some of the same nerdy, how-to energy here that he put in his very best West Wing episodes. But the movie also suffers from some of his self-importance. We get decent performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer, who plays both of the Winklevoss twins. B+

Second chance: What I think I liked best about The Social Network the first time around, I liked even more now — the writing is sharp, smart and very funny and some of the supporting performances are a real treat (Hammer and Timberlake particularly). The first time around I was struck by how cool Facebook as it is described here seems compared to how not-cool Facebook now seems. On second viewing, Facebook itself and really the whole dot-com aspect of the movie are far less interesting (in fact almost recede entirely). For whatever reason, this time around, the start-up story (how a business or phenomenon begins, grows and changes) seemed like more of the focus. Still a B+.

Standout: For all that Aaron Sorkin is not a perfect writer, he is a damn good one. This movie is expertly written with some absolutely delightful dialogue. Armie Hammer’s performance(s) as the twins is also endlessly entertaining. And, not something one usually notices, the movie is exceptionally well scored.

Must see? The script makes the movie entertaining, the subject matter makes it culturally significant. To me, these things don’t add up to movie of the year but they do make The Social Network worth adding to your Netflix queue.

On DVD: Yes.

Toy Story 3 (G)
Initial impression: An almost shockingly good return to the Toy Story universe, this third outing is funny and full of adventure and I dare you not to cry during its final 15 minutes. A-

Second chance: This movie, which topped my list of best movies in 2010, is superb. It not only stood up to a second viewing, it got better. I enjoyed the performances even more, found new details to marvel over and still got choked up at the end. This one goes up to an A.

Standout: The most impressive achievement of this movie may be that even though it is the third movie in a series that started in 1995, the story is fresh and exciting. There is great adventure, comedy for viewers of all ages and laser-to-your-heart emotion.

Must see? Yes, and repeatedly.

On DVD: Yes.

True Grit (PG-13)
Initial impression: The Coen Brothers offer an excellent remake of a classic Western with excellent performances from Hailee Steinfeld (as a young girl seeking vengeance for her father), Jeff Bridges (as the rusty drunken U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn) and Matt Damon (as the slightly full-of-himself Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, whose name is always, delightfully, pronounced “LaBeef”). A-

Second chance: With the weight of whatever my expectations were the first time around lifted, I think I actually liked the movie more the second time. Its dialogue is crisp and exciting. It’s darkly charming and dryly funny. The characters are, to a man, great and Steinfeld is particularly delightful to watch (in every scene of the movie, it must be noted — whatever, “supporting” role). This might actually stand as the live-action complement to Toy Story 3 — the other perfect (or at least, near enough to perfect) movie of 2011. So, A.

Standout: Steinfeld is truly amazing. She’s nominated for best supporting actress, a category filled with good performances this year, but I think she deserves the Oscar.

Must see? Yes. This seems like one that movie-lovers of all stripes can agree on.

On DVD: No word yet when the film is headed to DVD; it is still in theaters.

Winter’s Bone (R)
Initial impression: Jennifer Lawrence, rightly nominated for an Oscar, plays teenager Ree Dolly, who at 17 is raising her younger brother and sister and looking after her disabled mother in a very poor Ozarks community. Her father has jumped bail and the family is at risk of losing their house if she can’t find him in time. A

Second chance: This truly solid drama stands up to a second viewing. Location (a poor rural community) and characters (meth-cookers and their friends and family) could have led to moments of showy actoryness but the film never strikes a false note. A

Standout: Lawrence’s performance makes the movie. She is mesmerizing.

Must see? This is not the feel-good movie of the year but it is absolutely worth your attention.

On DVD: Yes.

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