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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: Thanks for Sharing

The Perfect Film For the Sex Addict in Your Life

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: September 20, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Stuart Blumberg
Writers: Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, 
Alecia "Pink" Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, 
Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane

When I see a movie that accomplishes the rare triple threat of being beautifully acted, immaculately written, and filled with interesting characters, I want to immediately rush out and tell everyone about it. Discovering a film as fascinating as "Thanks for Sharing" genuinely excites me.

It tells the story of a group of sex addicts. Like alcoholics, they too are in a twelve-step program. The only difference is – since I know you're all wondering – they don't have to completely abstain from their "drug" of choice. There are ground rules, though: no televisions or computers, no self-pleasure, and no sex outside of a committed relationship. One of the men, Adam (Mark Ruffalo), has been "sober" for five years. To ward off temptation, he resorts to using an old-fashioned flip-top phone without a screen and even asks for the TV to be carted away from his hotel room whenever he's away on business.

But when you're a sex addict, merely walking down the street provides a beautiful bevy of almost irresistible temptations. The leader of the program, Mike (an older, more grizzled Tim Robbins), explains that "it's like trying to quit crack while the pipe is attached to your body."

Adam and Mike are both intensely disciplined. You get the sense that the program itself may be the "higher power" they pray to, because they both approach it like a religion. But just as Job was in the Bible, even the most faithful of servants are eventually tested.

Their polar opposite is Neil (Josh Gad), a hard-working young doctor who immature in every other aspect of his life – including his addiction. For him, it goes far beyond the traditional dietary staples of watching porn and hiring hookers. Despite that, he meets a kindred spirit at one of the meetings, Dede (Alecia "Pink" Moore), who is spiraling out of control in her own way.

There are also two women on the outside looking in: Mike's long-suffering wife, Katie (Joely Richardson), and Adam's "perfect" new girlfriend – his first in five years – Phoebe (Gwyeth Paltrow). If being a recovering addict wasn't stressful enough, Mike and Katie have a surprise visitor show up on their doorstep: their son, Danny (Patrick Fugit, "Almost Famous"), a drug addict who claims he's now clean. Unlike his dad, he "white knuckled" it – meaning he gave up his addictions on his own without the help of a twelve-step program. That obviously puts Danny at odds with his father, who leads such a group. The hardened Mike is not ready to forgive or forget – or believe.

Addiction is rarely a straight line: there are sweet victories, but there are also costly mistakes and heartbreaking setbacks. One wrong move is all it takes for the reset button to be clicked – if it can be at all. Addicts can never stop thinking about their internal demons. Obsession drives both good and bad choices.

In giving us a glimpse of that world, "Thanks for Sharing" manages to be both funny and gut-wrenching. That's because it contains fully-realized characters who encompass the entire human spectrum of emotions, a great story that pulls the audience in every direction, superb actors who honor this arduous journey, and some of the best writing and dialogue I've had the pleasure of listening to in a film all year. I was hoping against hope that Stuart Blumberg (who previously wrote "The Kids Are All Right") and Matt Winston (making his screenwriting debut) would get recognized for their fantastic script with a deserved Oscar nomination, but alas, it was not to be.

The Academy may have overlooked this hidden gem, but you definitely shouldn't.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The 86th Annual Academy Awards: Nominations and Analysis

Thoughts, Snubs, and Early Predictions

By Chris Sabga

The nominations for the 86th Annual Academy Awards have finally been revealed. As usual, I'm happy, excited, and completely agitated – all in the same breath.

I've broken down the major categories into three sections:

Thoughts: Just my general take on the various nominations.

Snubs: What I feel got left out. I knew certain movies wouldn't make it to the Oscars, but that doesn't mean I can't personally champion them myself.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Don't make your Oscar pool picks based on my thoughts.
And the Oscar goes to...

Best Motion Picture of the Year

American Hustle (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Gravity (2013)

Her (2013)

Nebraska (2013)

Philomena (2013)

12 Years a Slave (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Thoughts: An interesting, if slightly predictable, list. I have never been a fan of expanding this category to up to ten nominations. We get nine this year, and good movies are still left out. I miss the days when the list was nice and trim with only five films.

Snubs: "Mud" and "Fruitvale Station" stand out in my mind. "Saving Mr. Banks" is another I expected to see here. I had no illusions of "The Book Thief" making the cut though, as 1. I think I'm the only one who liked it, and 2. I think I'm the only one who saw it. I also think "Disconnect" was one of the most important films released in 2013, but I knew it wasn't going to end up being recognized. Ditto for Joss Whedon's inventive take on William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" and the lovely coming-of-age film, "The Way Way Back."

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: My friend Martha runs an Oscar pool every year. The prize is...well, I actually have no idea what it is, because I never even come close to sniffing it. I am not good at playing these sorts of lottery guessing games, as fun as it is. This early in the race, it's almost impossible to accurately guess. For now, I'll say "Gravity" because it really felt like an experience you could get nowhere else, and isn't that what makes the movies so magical? But I am hardly confident in that prediction.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale for American Hustle (2013)

Bruce Dern for Nebraska (2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Thoughts: Most people probably expected Tom Hanks to get nominated for "Captain Phillips," but I'm not too broken up about it that he didn't. Whether Chiwetel Ejiofor wins or not (and I don't see it happening), I'm glad he's finally getting recognized on the Oscar stage. He has been one of my favorites for years, and this acclaim will likely open him up to more prestigious leading roles in major films. That's a win-win for serious movie buffs.

Snubs: Matthew McConaughey got a deserved nomination for his superb performance in "Dallas Buyers Club," but I slightly preferred his incredible role in "Mud." Then again, maybe I'm biased. Of course, the reality is, he's getting nominated for his amazing body of work over the past year or so. Michael B. Jordan is nowhere to be found for "Fruitvale Station," which is a mild surprise considering Oscar buzz he had when the film first came out. Joaquin Phoenix's role in "Her" was also expected to be recognized, but I can't personally comment on that yet – the movie was just released here, finally.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, but I don't think I'm wrong.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams for American Hustle (2013)

Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (2013)

Sandra Bullock for Gravity (2013)

Judi Dench for Philomena (2013)

Meryl Streep for August: Osage County (2013)

Thoughts: Can Sandra Bullock trade her Oscar for "The Blind Side" and get it for "Gravity" instead? As good as she was in "Blind Side," her soulful work in "Gravity" is by far the best of her career. Meryl Streep irritated the entire world by winning for 2011's "The Iron Lady." Her performance was amazing; the movie was not. I really think the quality of a film should be taken into account when handing out statuettes. What does that have to do with "August: Osage County"? Not a damn thing, but this site didn't exist when Meryl won her last Oscar, so I'm getting on my soapbox now. Better late than never!

Snubs: I expected Emma Thompson to land here for "Saving Mr. Banks." It was a truly marvelous, multi-layered performance – funny, touching, and at times heartbreaking.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Cate Blanchett

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips (2013)

Bradley Cooper for American Hustle (2013)

Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Thoughts: Despite my strong feelings about "Captain Phillips," I am pleased as punch to see the Somali actor Barkhad Abdi get nominated; it's even more surprising because "Captain Phillips" himself – Tom Hanks – was omitted.

Snubs: I wouldn't have minded seeing the fantastic Sam Rockwell recognized for "The Way Way Back," but I'd be lying if I said I expected it. Geoffrey Rush's work in "The Book Thief" was also stellar, but like Rockwell, I knew his name wouldn't be appearing on this list. Paul Giamatti's powerful performances in both "Mr. Banks" and "Parkland" were unfairly overlooked too. Hollywood tends to take him for granted at times because he makes it look so easy.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Jared Leto, but I could see the Academy throwing us a curveball. I hope not though.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine (2013)

Julia Roberts for August: Osage County (2013)

Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle (2013)

June Squibb for Nebraska (2013)

Thoughts: A fascinating mixture of major Hollywood stars, respected character actors, and fresh faces. Not bad for a small list of five.

Snubs: When "Fruitvale Station" first came out, I fully expected Octavia Spencer to receive a second Oscar nomination. I am less surprised now that she didn't, but she should have. I was hoping for – but not at all expecting – Sophie Nélisse or Emily Watson to get nominated for their roles in "The Book Thief." I realize Nélisse is actually the lead, but she's a child actor, and those sometimes get dumped down to the "Supporting" category to give them a better chance (for example, Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense." But since I'm the only one buzzing about that movie, I knew it had no chance.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: This one seems wide open to me. I'll take a wild guess and go with June Squibb.

Best Achievement in Directing

Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity (2013)

Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave (2013)

David O. Russell for American Hustle (2013)

Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Alexander Payne for Nebraska (2013)

Thoughts: Some feel the movies recognized in this category are the "true" Best Picture nominees, before that category expanded to ten. I don't know if the conventional thinking still applies. If so, "Nebraska's" inclusion has to be considered a slight surprise, but Alexander Payne is more than worthy of being listed alongside Scorcese and the others.

Snubs: Jeff Nichols for "Mud" and Paul Greengrass for "Captain Phillips" leap out in my mind. Even though I didn't love "Phillips," Greengrass's exciting direction was not among my issues with that film. I also think Joss Whedon should have been recognized for filming such a bold, original telling of "Much About Nothing," but expecting that would have been like hoping to lose weight after eating a Big Mac value meal.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

American Hustle (2013): Eric Singer, David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine (2013): Woody Allen

Her (2013): Spike Jonze

Nebraska (2013): Bob Nelson

Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Thoughts: I haven't seen "Her" yet, but it sounds like the type of thing that would be tough to write – and tougher yet for other people to recognize as a good piece of writing (assuming it is). I'm honestly surprised to see the Academy include it.

Snubs: The dialogue in "Thanks for Sharing" was among the best I've had the pleasure of listening to in a film all year. I was hoping against hope that Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston would get recognized for it.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Spike Jonze

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Before Midnight (2013): Richard Linklater

Captain Phillips (2013): Billy Ray

12 Years a Slave (2013): John Ridley

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013): Terence Winter

Philomena (2013): Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

Thoughts: Even though I had an angry reaction to "Before Midnight," I'm glad it's here – because the writing in the "Before" films has always been superb.

Snubs: I'm tempted to say Joss Whedon should also be here for "Much Ado About Nothing," but maybe Shakespeare should be granted an honorary Oscar instead. Yes, I'm joking – maybe.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Philomena, just because I want to hear Steve Coogan's speech. Yeah, I won't be winning Martha's pool this year – or any other year.


Other Thoughts: "Mud" was shut out entirely. No nominations at all. Why? Nothing for "Fruitvale" either. At least "Book Thief" got some sort of musical nomination – whoopee!


Here are the rest of the categories and nominees:

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

The Croods (2013)

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

Frozen (2013)

The Wind Rises (2013)

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012): Felix Van Groeningen (Belgium)

The Missing Picture (2013): Rithy Panh (Cambodia)

The Hunt (2012): Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark)

The Great Beauty (2013): Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)

Omar (2013): Hany Abu-Assad (Palestine)

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Gravity (2013): Emmanuel Lubezki

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Bruno Delbonnel

Nebraska (2013): Phedon Papamichael

Prisoners (2013): Roger Deakins

The Grandmaster (2013): Philippe Le Sourd

Best Achievement in Editing

12 Years a Slave (2013): Joe Walker

American Hustle (2013): Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers

Gravity (2013): Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger

Captain Phillips (2013): Christopher Rouse

Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Martin Pensa, John Mac McMurphy

Best Achievement in Production Design

12 Years a Slave (2013): Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker

American Hustle (2013): Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler

Gravity (2013)

The Great Gatsby (2013): Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn

Her (2013): K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena

Best Achievement in Costume Design

American Hustle (2013): Michael Wilkinson

The Great Gatsby (2013): Catherine Martin

12 Years a Slave (2013): Patricia Norris

The Grandmaster (2013): William Chang

The Invisible Woman (2013): Michael O'Connor

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013): Steve Prouty

The Lone Ranger (2013): Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua Casny

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Book Thief (2013): John Williams

Gravity (2013): Steven Price

Her (2013): William Butler, Andy Koyama

Saving Mr. Banks (2013): Thomas Newman

Philomena (2013): Alexandre Desplat

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Despicable Me 2 (2013): Pharrell Williams ( "Happy")

Frozen (2013): Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez ("Let It Go")

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013): Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Brian Burton ("Ordinary Love")

Alone Yet Not Alone (2013): Bruce Broughton ("Alone Yet Not Alone")

Her (2013): Karen O ("The Moon Song")

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Gravity (2013): Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson

Captain Phillips (2013): Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland

Lone Survivor (2013): Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

All Is Lost (2013): Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns

Captain Phillips (2013): Oliver Tarney

Gravity (2013): Glenn Freemantle

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Brent Burge

Lone Survivor (2013): Wylie Stateman

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Gravity (2013): Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds

Iron Man 3 (2013): Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Daniel Sudick

The Lone Ranger (2013): Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton

Best Documentary, Feature

The Act of Killing (2012): Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen

Cutie and the Boxer (2013): Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher

Dirty Wars (2013): Rick Rowley, Jeremy Scahill

The Square (2013): Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer

20 Feet from Stardom (2013): Morgan Neville

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Cavedigger (2013): Jeffrey Karoff

Facing Fear (2013): Jason Cohen

Karama Has No Walls (2012): Sara Ishaq

The Lady In Number 6 (2013): Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (2013): Edgar Barens

Best Short Film, Animated

Feral (2012): Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden

Get a Horse! (2013): Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim

Mr Hublot (2013): Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares

Possessions (2012): Shuhei Morita

Room on the Broom (2012) (TV): Max Lang, Jan Lachauer

Best Short Film, Live Action

Aquel no era yo (2012): Esteban Crespo

Just Before Losing Everything (2013): Xavier Legrand

Helium (2013): Anders Walter

Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (2012): Selma Vilhunen

The Voorman Problem (2013): Mark Gill

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One-Year Anniversary: The Silver Screen Surprises of 2013

Much Ado About Mud, Midnight, and More

By Chris Sabga

It has been exactly one year since Silver Screen Surprises launched – and I saw many great movies over the past 365 days! In lieu of a traditional top five or ten, I will simply present some of the best "silver screen surprises" I saw in 2013. Below that, I've included some of my favorite spectacles and blasts from the past as well.

Silver Screen Surprises 2013

The following movies presented here are listed in alphabetical order, with each title linking to the full review.

Before Midnight: My review was semi-negative. The movie actually made me angry. How many movies actually evoke such strong emotions in a viewer? All these many months later, I still can't stop thinking about it. The previous two "Before" films have a lot to do with the strong bond I've forged with these characters, but "Midnight" left me wanting more, even if it also left me in a deep depression.

The Big Wedding: This has a 7% Rotten rating on the Tomatometer. Needless to say, I don't care. It's a big, fun, well-acted screwball comedy with a great cast. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I make no apologies for that.

The Book Thief: This epic tale about a little girl caught up in the whirlwind of Nazi Germany haunted me for weeks.

Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey is having one of the best years of his career. His role here as HIV-positive black market medicine salesman and activist Ron Woodroof, circa the mid-1980s, is Oscar-worthy – unless he's nominated for "Mud" instead.

Dead Man Down: One of the most bizarre films of the year – I never quite knew where the story was going, or what Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace would do next. As I said in my review: I went into this expecting a dumb action movie; instead, it's an interesting meditation on the deep desire for revenge and what that can do to a person's soul.

Disconnect: Things aren't always what they seem on the internet. In this series of interconnecting tales, the allure – and danger – of the world wide wide is explored from all angles. It's one of the best – and most important – films I saw all year.

Emperor: It tells two different types of stories – it's an investigative procedural and a romance – but they're both above love. Matthew Fox plays U.S. General Bonner Fellers, who is caught between love of his country and the love of a Japanese woman. General Douglas MacArthur – portrayed bombastically by Tommy Lee Jones – recognizes Fellers' expertise of Eastern culture and assigns him to investigate Japan Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. "Emperor" is unique because it shows the effects of World War II from Japan's perspective.

Fruitvale Station: Based on a true story, this gripping day in the life of Oscar Grant will leave you riveted and then stunned. While Oscar is painted in a positive light, he's never unrealistically portrayed as a perfect angel. Featuring incredible performances by Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, "Fruitvale" has a powerful, lingering effect.

Jobs: People seemingly went out of their way to give this biopic a bad rap because it stars Ashton Kutcher. I've always liked him, and as it turns out, he's superb as the Apple founder. The movie isn't perfect and could have benefited from a longer running time. It races through the "insanely great" life of its subject. But the quick pace has its advantages too: "Jobs" never stops moving and is always entertaining.

Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare comes alive in this funny, fresh modern take on the Bard's classic work. Director Joss Whedon brought together his usual troupe of actors and filmed this in only twelve days. He called it the best vacation he's ever taken, and it's a vacation for the viewer too – from the usual mundane movie experiences that litter the landscape.

Mud: "Mud" succeeds spectacularly because it transports us to another world – the America that most of us don't live in. With beautiful performances by Matthew McConaughey and child actors Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, this moving coming-of-age tale set in rural Arkansas is one of the year's best films. Don't miss Mike Sabga's behind-the-scenes report from the set of "Mud."

No: If you didn't know any better, you'd swear this was a documentary filmed in 1988 when the Pinochet dictatorship was in full swing in Chile. "No" could easily be mistaken for an old VHS recording. It looks like it was filmed with a camcorder in 1988. It tells the fascinating story of the revolutionary attempt to vote Pinochet out of power – via a "No" vote – and how fraught with danger that movement actually was.

Parkland: This powerful, gritty look at the JFK assassination focuses on "the people on the ground" who were affected in the aftermath – the doctors and nurses, FBI and Secret Service Agents, the photographer, the Oswald family, and JFK's grieving widow. It's hard to come up with a fresh take on these events after 50 years, but "Parkland" manages to do just that in spellbinding fashion.

The Place Beyond the Pines: This is a vast story with many layers. To reveal too much would be a disservice. My own review hardly does the film justice because I didn't want to even hint at what would happen. Let's just say it's about fathers, sons, and the long-term effects and consequences of choices made sometimes in the heat of the moment.

The Way Way Back: A lost, lonely boy experiences the best summer of his life: Many movies could be described that way, but very few of them are as smart, touching, and subtle as "The Way Way Back." Here is a script that deeply understands the painful, awkward transition every teenage boy goes through – where he's no longer a child but not close to being an adult yet.

Vehicle 19: The late Paul Walker always came across as truly genuine on screen, which is something even the best actors can't fake. I suspect people who sat down to watch "Vehicle 19" expected a clone of "The Fast and The Furious," but there are very few American-style car chases. Instead, it's a tense thriller set in South Africa – and one of the best movies Walker has ever done. (Paul Walker died on November 30, 2013.)


Providing explosive action or crazy laughs, here are some of the most enjoyable "popcorn" spectacles I reviewed over the year.


Blasts From The Past...

From 1925 all the way to the end of 2012, here are several truly great movies – and a few oddballs as well.