Adrenaline Shot: The Aston Martin DB9 Special

James Bond started it with the DB5. Let us take an inside look at the latest iteration of the DB series, the DB9.

hapless geek’s Oscars Central 2015

The 87th Academy Awards is just under a month away, and hapless geek is back once again supplying the ammo to predict who leaves Tinseltown with that coveted golden statuette. Last year we predicted the top awards of the show in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead and Supporting Actor, Lead and Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay (Original and Adapted). We will add a couple more categories to the mix this year in Best Cinematography, and Best Animated Feature. Call us ambitious, but this is clearly our happiest time of year at hapless geek. We live for this stuff! 

We will work around the clock to provide synopses and opinions on the best films of 2014, and come February 22, we guarantee you will be prepared with as much insight and estimation to cheer or scream in disgust at your television screens as the winners are announced.

This year’s lineup of Best Picture nominees is the most varied and eclectic as we’ve seen, with no clear-cut winner in the mix. The eight nominees are as follows:

American Sniper

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

The Theory of Everything


Over the next month, hapless geek will showcase these films and try to convince you why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named them best in show for 2014. As you’ve come to expect from us, we’ll work hard to leave plot points and juicy details out of our Critiqued, but we will certainly provide information and opinions on the performances of the actors and directors, and tell you whether or not we think these films deserve the praise and the accolades. We’ll offer release dates for all eight films on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming on-demand (if applicable). By the night of the Academy Awards, rest assured you’ll have all the tools you need to celebrate or question who received what. The projected winners of the above films and the awards subcategories will be presented the weekend leading up to Oscar Sunday, so keep your browsers locked on hapless geek for the big reveal.

Please note: the following Critiqued will be presented in random order, not in preference order. The first Critique does not mean hapless geek considers it their first choice for Oscar gold. 

And now, the Critiqued envelopes please

Taking the Autonomous vehicle one step further...

Back in 2012, we did a write up on Driverless cars. It was a project that was/is spearheaded by Google and involved a test fleet of at least eight vehicles, consisting of six Toyota Prius, an Audi TT, and a Lexus RX450h. Fast forward to 2014, and the Geneva Motor Show. Swiss automaker Rinspeed has put forward their concept of an autonomous vehicle except this one takes it to the next level... in a Tesla S.

Rinspeed puts man at the center of the autonomous car. At the 2014 Geneva Motor Show Rinspeed presented the "XchangE" study to the public in a world premiere. It demonstrates how cars will 'move' us just a few short years from now, in both senses of the word. Frank M. Rinderknecht describes the status quo like this: "So far hardly anyone has taken this to its logical conclusion from the perspective of the driver. After all, traveling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way." And then he poses the key question: How will the interior of a vehicle have to be designed to let the now largely unburdened driver make optimal use of the gain in time?

The Swiss company provides the answer with an all-electric touring sedan by the name of "XchangE". In best Helvetic tradition it was engineered by 4erC and built at Esoro. The vehicle features all-new seats reminiscent of the relaxing business-class seats of major airlines. The basic idea behind the seats that offer a host of adjustment, tilting and swiveling options comes from Otto Bock Mobility Solutions,
arguably the most renowned manufacturer of medical prosthetics worldwide. This results in more than twenty possible seating arrangements - a world record. The futuristic TRW steering wheel with hands-on recognition, drive-mode-manager display in the rim and transparent multifunction keys with ambiance lighting can simply be "parked" in the middle of the instrument panel together with the innovative lightweight steering column with bionic design from Georg Fischer Automotive. This feat is made possible by the multi-redundant "steer-by-wire" technology developed by Swabian Company Paravan, similar to what can be found on modern jet aircraft. It is therefore no wonder that the smart automotive visionary with a wink negates the famous advertising slogan that has become a popular phrase: "Not even flying is better from now on!"

Passengers will be able to assume virtually any seating or resting position when traveling in a fully autonomous vehicle in the future, which will require a completely new operating and display concept. It is supplied by infotainment specialist Harman. The new concept uses the manufacturer's all-new next-generation scalable infotainment platform, which is based on HTML5 and provides comprehensive protection against hacker attacks. In the "XchangE" it offers numerous functions for navigation, entertainment, assistance and services that are displayed on a total of four screens. A 1.2-meter-wide display strip in the steering-wheel support provides important information in wide-screen format. A 32-inch 4K monitor in the rear transforms the "XchangE" into a highly comfortable on-demand UHD movie theatre on wheels. It is controlled with simple gestures.

Of course the "XchangE" is also fully networked with the outside world. The in-car consolidation of real-time sensor data that is crucial for "Car2X" communications is handled by the infotainment system, which communicates with the Cloud via an integrated LTE module. Deutsche Telekom and its fast LTE network provide the secure data transmission. All incoming vehicle data - from the Harman infotainment system and other vehicle systems - are compiled and analyzed on a standardized "Business-to-Car" platform of Deutsche Telekom. The intelligent links to numerous other online data sources thus create travel-specific Cloud services such as warning messages or recommendations on route and driving profiles, which are available to all road users in real time. The more vehicles and service providers are networked via the manufacturer-independent "Business-to-Car" platform, the more everyone traveling by car benefits from added safety and convenience.

An intelligent access control system that uses RFID technology to identify the authorized driver or drivers switches on the essential functions of the "XchangE". It comes from the parts portfolio of forklift manufacturer Linde Material Handling. As on the company's forklifts and other materials handling equipment, the technical signals from the sensors and the vehicle control system are compiled by the "connect:" data-logging unit and transmitted continuously to the Cloud via the T network. The software of the "connect:" unit makes it possible to analyze all operating data and generate reports, for example for fleet operators.

For more information, visit the Rinspeed website.

The Koenigsegg Obsession: One:1

Sometimes, obsession is a good thing. What we are referring to of course, is Koenigsegg's obsession with weight savings, and giving exactly what customers are looking for... and then some. How about 1360HP in a car that weighs 1360kgs? Sure, why not. Formula 1 technology included? Absolutely. Incidentally, 1360HP equates to 1MW (megawatt), so effectively Koenigsegg may have just developed the first, not Supercar, but Megacar!

How does it perform you ask? Well, the One:1 is a car
that can pull 2G around a skidpad, do 0-400km/h in under 20 seconds and in case you ever begin to wonder how exactly the car is performing, it will provide all the information you would ever need right on your smartphone (more on this below). How cool is that? It is also fitted with GPS so that if you decide to take it out on the track (it is being built just for that purpose based on customer requests - but be careful of those carbon fiber wheels), drive around the track once, the GPS can learn the track and the next time around, make suspension adjustments on the fly as you drive around praying your face doesn't get ripped off. Oh and when it comes to weight savings, almost everything, and we do mean EVERYTHING is carbon fiber, right from the monocoque to the wheels and even the suspension!

Telenor Connexion provides Koenigsegg with an end-to-end solution including cloud services, a web interface and an app for smartphones and tablets. Using the app, Koenigsegg’s exclusive car owners will get direct access to statistics such as recent runs, average speed, top speed, lap time, g-force etc. Further, it enables them to remotely track the car, its fuel level and battery status as well as access the latest software. Oh and get this, you can even control the ride height and the angle of the wing using the smartphone app!

The benefits to Koenigsegg, besides the added customer functionality, is that the solution provides easy access to vehicle statistics and that it enables the manufacturer to optimize the vehicle’s performance remotely over time. It really does look like they have thrown conventional wisdom out of the window (as they usually do) and have completely redesigned what a car should/can be. Sadly though, there will only be 6 of these ultra-exclusive vehicles (that have already sold out), so good luck trying to see one in the flesh. For now, we'll just be happy ogling at pictures of the One:1 and try not to let our jaw hit the ground. It does look like 2014 is the year of the Super/Megacar.

For more information and the detailed specifications of the One:1, visit Koenigsegg's website.

The Aston Martin DB9 Special

The Aston Martin DB series is one of the most iconic cars in automotive history, partly due to the fact that it is James Bond's vehicle of choice, and due to Aston's own racing pedigree. The DB9 grand tourer is a combination of suave, sexy, muscle and elegance in a gorgeously well sorted package. With a 6.0 L naturally aspirated V12 putting out 510HP and a colossal 620 Nm of torque, the DB9 is no slouch and crosses the 60mph mark a little over the 4.5 second mark all the way up to a top speed of 183mph. Not bad for a GT car that weighs almost 1800 kilos!

The latest version of the DB9 took an extraordinary collaborative effort to achieve. Nearly 50% of all parts and more than 70% of all body panels are new, but it is as timeless and elegant as ever. Judging by the looks alone, it looks like Aston Martin took a some of the best elements from the previous DBS and the Virage and have incorporated it into the newest package. The fanatic attention to detail is not just on the outside though. The interior is absolutely gorgeous and the occupants are
cocooned in absolute luxury. Master designers worked with expert craftsmen and produced a level of fit and finish unheard of in a Grand Tourer. Take the flowing leather welts - custom made by hand in new facilities, the control switches – made of real glass, the leather – the finest Bridge of Weir hides. The result? The most luxurious Aston Martin DB9 in history.

We could keep going on and on and on about how beautiful the DB9 looks, or how they used the 'Golden Ratio' in the design out of the exterior, or what a glorious exhaust note the DB9 has but seeing is believing. Take a look at the video below. You know the drill... lights out, speakers up!

To know more about the DB9, check out their website.

2014 Oscar Wrap-Up

Oscar Sunday 2014 has come and gone, and the best and brightest of Hollywood were honored at the 86th Academy Awards. We at hapless geek enjoyed the night’s festivities, just as much as we enjoyed bringing our predictions of the top award recipients of the evening to you. Let’s recap our night with a final look at the night’s winners! 

Our guesses of the night—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress, and Best Original and Adapted Screenplay—can be found here and they weren’t too shabby. We went 7 for 8 in these categories, so here’s a rebuttal to why we got one wrong, and a boast about the ones we got right. 

Best Original Screenplay – Spike Jonze [HER]

Prediction: I’m giving this one to Spike Jonze for Her (review). While I loved Dallas Buyers Club a lot, the banter and overall writing of Her—especially for and between the two lead actors—was much fuller and richer than Dallas.

Result: We had no doubt about Spike Jonze’s screen play, we were concerned about how well-received American Hustle (see review here) was with the Academy after its popular acclaim. Her was not seen by a whole lot of people, to their detriment, and they may not have heard about it until it was too late—the film opened to 1,730 screens its opening weekend in January in the U.S., and lasted about a month. Comparatively, American Hustle opened to 2,500 screens ten days before Christmas 2013 and grossed almost $20 million its opening frame.

Best Adapted Screenplay – John Ridley [12 YEARS A SLAVE]

Prediction: Richard Linklater could be due after not scoring for Before Sunrise/Sunset, but my money’s on John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave. Believe it or not, the slavery film is the least controversial of the litter in this category, with Captain Philips, Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena (review here) all taking arguably unpopular liberties with the source material. That may hurt them all.

Result: Ridley campaigned hard for this film, and rightfully so. And to counter our above point, the 12 Years a Slave journey was not without its own controversy—but it was between writer and director, as Steve McQueen had a well-documented falling out with Ridley over a desired partial writing credit for the director that was declined. The tension could have been cut with a knife on Oscar night, as neither man acknowledged one another during their acceptance speeches (Ridley for screenplay, McQueen as a producer for Best Picture). Nonetheless, 12 Years was deserving of both statues.
(from left to right) Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actor – Jared Leto [DALLAS BUYERS CLUB]

Prediction: This is a tough category. The newcomer Barkhad Abdi in Captain Philips (review here) throws a monkey wrench into the two-horse race between Jared Leto and Jonah Hill, in my opinion, but Leto was just amazing in Dallas Buyers Club and showed ridiculous range as Rayon. It pains me to say it, because Jonah Hill has been on a roll over the last three years, but my pick goes to Jared Leto.

Result: Leto was just waaaaaay too good in Dallas Buyers Club. The over-the-top nature of  The Wolf of Wall Street may have detracted from the great performances of their lead actors, at least in the eyes of the Academy, but it would have been a tough sell regardless compared to what a transcendent job Jared Leto did. Add to the fact that it’s been six years since he’s donned his acting hat after touring the world with his band 30 Seconds to Mars, to return to the silver screen in this fashion was just too much for Jonah Hill to compete with.

Best Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o [12 YEARS A SLAVE]

Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence was the most entertaining out of the very funny ensemble of American Hustle, but Oscar just can’t ignore Lupita Nyong’o and her masterful performance. June Squibb may get a mention because she was the most colorful character in Nebraska, but if I was a betting man I’d say 12 Years a Slave wins this one.

Result: There’s not much else to say about this other than, we knew it. Personally, Nyong’o was believable and emotionally arresting in 12 Years, but we still contend Sarah Paulson got snubbed because Patsey wouldn’t have been so arresting without Miss Epps’ harrowing portrayal of a jealous and vindictive wife of a slave master. The plight of Nyong’o wouldn’t have been as powerful if a lesser actress played her foil. Additionally, the competition wasn’t as strong this year in the category; we mentioned June Squibb in Nebraska (review) being a sleeper, but Jennifer Lawrence was the only true contender to Nyong’o possibly losing this.

Best Lead Actor – Matthew McConaughey [DALLAS BUYERS CLUB]

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, hands down. Leonardo DiCaprio was salaciously awesome in The Wolf of Wall Street, but McConaughey completely transformed himself for this role, which the Academy rewards more often than not. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oscar finally comes to Leo after being overlooked twice before in this category, but it was just too striking a performance in Dallas Buyers Club (review) for McConaughey to lose.

Result: Dallas Buyers Club was an amazing character-driven piece. From the very beginning of the film, Matthew McConaughey made us believe he was Ron Woodroof. Granted, Leonardo DiCaprio made us believe he was Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, but he’s also made us believe he was Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Abagnale Jr. and Jay Gatsby with equal believability. While rewarding a personality for previous accolades that yielded no awards is an unwritten rule in Hollywood, it stood no chance here. Neither did Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce Dern and Christian Bale for their respective performances. Oscar night was Matthew’s night. Alright, alright, alright.

Best Lead Actress – Cate Blanchett [BLUE JASMINE]

Prediction: Many people may have Cate Blanchett taking this home, but I wasn’t as floored by her performance in Blue Jasmine than in other roles she’s done, so I’m going to give this one to Sandra Bullock for Gravity. She carried 90% of this film, and while it wasn’t the most dialogue or plot-heavy work she’s done, it was captivating on-screen work nonetheless.

Result: We stand by our opinion on who we thought brought it better this year, but we also admit Blue Jasmine was a great role for Cate Blanchett to sink her teeth into. We still think she was better in her supporting roles like Notes on a Scandal, Benjamin Button and The Aviator, but we’d also portend since Blue Jasmine got very little publicity save for her performance this year, the Academy found it a great way to kill a couple birds with one stone. Dame Judi Dench and Amy Adams were both very solid in their roles, and Meryl Streep (with her record 18 Oscar nominations) is—let’s face it—Meryl Streep and is quintessential in August: Osage County, but Sandra Bullock did so much more with less in her performance and carried Gravity (review) essentially by herself. Nonetheless, Cate Blanchett was the most enjoyable character and showed the most range in Jasmine, even though that role was in our opinion plain Jane in regards unique characters portrayed on-screen.

Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón [GRAVITY]

Prediction: This is another tough one. Because of the sheer breadth of work that needed to be done for this film just to get made, smart money is on Alfonso Cuarón to win this one for Gravity. My heart wants it to be Steve McQueen, but my gut believes it’s Cuarón’s to lose.

Result: We need to qualify that for the amount of time this film took from conception to screen, no one in this category stood a chance against Alfonso Cuarón. We had a feeling that if Steve McQueen were to win this category, the film 12 Years a Slave itself would probably not win Best Picture. Gravity in terms of overall film quality could not contend with The Wolf of Wall Street (here) or Captain Philips, but cinematography, editing, mixing and visual effects were head and shoulders this film’s bread and butter—that was all the doing of its fearless leader, Alfonso Cuarón.

Best Picture – 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Prediction: After all the reviews were said and done and [we] had to choose which of these nine films was best of 2013, the strongest performances and most deserving accolades go to 12 Years a Slave. Steve McQueen was fearless in his approach to this material, and the actors he commissioned for it brought their A-game from top to bottom. The Wolf of Wall Street gets honorable mention but I feel McQueen did much more with less in 12 Years than Scorsese did.

Result: Powerful story, haunting performances by some of the top actors of today, and a director who has transcended movie-making and creates films that entertain and educate in the most inspiring of ways, 12 Years a Slave (review) was a no-brainer for Best Picture. Most moviegoers may have believed The Wolf of Wall Street was a shoo-in for this category, but most of those moviegoers probably didn’t want to stomach 12 Years a Slave either. As charged as the material was in 12 Years, it was darn good material nevertheless. The whole was so much more powerful than the sum of its parts, and the parts were formidable to say the least. Scorsese hit so many good notes with Wolf, and DiCaprio and Hill were amazing, but Ejiofor, Fassbender, Cumberbatch, Nyong'o, Paulson, Giamatti and Pitt were that much better. McQueen's masterful camera work and unflinching eye forced us to take notice, and the Academy rewarded them all.

Oscar winners Blanchett (top left), McConaughey, Nyong'o, Leto (bottom left), director Steve McQueen (Best Picture) and Alfonso Cuarón (Best Director).
So, there you have it, hapless geeks. The beginning and end of the biggest night in movies. For more news on those who won, who lost, and the remainder of the night’s awards, log on to the Academy’s official website,!  

Driven: 2013 Skoda Yeti

We would put the Skoda Yeti in the same league as the Subaru Forester. They aren't exactly SUVs but do have the ground clearance like one. Spacious inside? Absolutely! Capable of lugging goods around? Most definitely. And they most definitely do not drive like SUVs, but more like regular cars!

The Skoda Yeti is a very understated, fly under the radar kind of vehicle. You could drive past one and not even give it a second glance, but that is the part of the charm. A reason for that is its plain Jane looks but the main reason we feel is because of the colors the Yeti is offered in. They are all very subdued, almost older person type colors with no fuss or pizzazz. Fortunately, the 2.0L diesel engine that powers the Yeti is anything but subdued! One can also have the peace of mind knowing that Skoda is basically backed by the VW group so you have the flexibility of interchangeable parts, not to mention the same fit and finish that one expects from VWs. The 2.0L turbo-diesel engine comes in 2 specifications, one producing 108 HP and the other 138 HP. We had the opportunity to test out the 4X4 version (the 4X2 FWD version was released after our test was completed) and boy were we surprised at the results.

Plus: The Skoda Yeti is as utilitarian and rugged as it gets (for something that isn't a full blown SUV). With multiple seating configurations, high ground clearance and torque-y motor, it tackles both on road and off road conditions with ease and aplomb all the while maintaining its composure. The Yeti does this without much fuss. The interior is well laid out and comes with all the creature comforts that one would expect from a VW Jetta. It is also very stable at highway speeds and we didn't face any trailing issues on the road. The 6 speed manual gearbox is snappy and the shifts short, crisp and precise. The all time 4WD definitely helps and we were pleasantly surprised by the road grip despite its relatively high center of gravity. Once you are in the power band (between 1800 RPM and about 3800 RPM), there is more than enough torque to keep you smiling and you will have to be careful not to break the speed limit! The Yeti did remind us of the Nissan Cube we tested in the sense where you could just dump a whole bunch of stuff and be on your merry way (of course we did say the interior of the Cube was Spartan but the Yeti's is anything but!).

Minus: Turbo lag. Until about 1800 RPM, you basically don't have much, but cross that number and you are in for a push you to the back of the seat moment when the boost kicks in. And we were a little disappointed with the relatively low red line (only 4200 RPM) and usable power band despite the fact that it is a diesel. The looks can go either way, it is very non-assuming and the colors offered are just the same. The cost is also quite high and we think it is going to be out of reach for a lot of people. Moreover, people will definitely think that they can get a lot more for their money. The biggest gripe we do have is the lack of good service especially since we have heard several horror stories of customers taking their vehicles to the dealership for services. Skoda should definitely take note of this if they haven't already.

Overall: We really loved the Yeti. It is not your run of the mill vehicle and the people that buy one know exactly what they are getting into. This is very evident from the fact that you don't see too many on the road. It is not a vehicle you buy to show off, but it is one of quiet confidence and quality. Due diligence is definitely required on the dealership the vehicle is purchased from especially considering all the negative feedback that has been received. It might be a little on the higher side in terms of cost, but which European brand isn't? But for the price, we would find it hard to find a more capable vehicle (in India at least). This is a vehicle we would definitely recommend purchasing.

The Skoda Yeti is currently on sale in India from Rs. 15,20,000 (~$25,000) to Rs. 19,00,000 (~$32,000) depending on options.

View the complete specifications of the Yeti.

Adrenaline Shot: Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4

As the successor to Lamborghini's best selling model of all time the Gallardo, their latest installment does have some big shoes to fill. Fortunately, by the looks of it, the Huracán LP 610-4 (the LP stands for the engine orientation - Longitudinale Posteriore, 610 is the power produced by the engine and the 4 stands for the fact that the vehicle is all wheel drive and power is delivered to all 4 wheels) does exactly just that. Now while it has taken quite a few design cues from both the crazy Aventador and the Veneno, it still looks the business without being too outlandish. And in case you are wondering if it truly is a suitable replacement for the Gallardo, just take a look at the specs:

  1. Engine Type: V10 90° IDS, 40 valves
  2. Displacement: 5,204 cm³ (317.6
  3. Maximum power: 610 HP (449 kW) @ 8,250 RPM
  4. Maximum torque: 560 Nm (412 lbft) @ 6,500 RPM
  5. Lubrication system: Dry sump
  1. Top speed: 325 km/h (202 mph)
  2. Acceleration 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph): 3.2 s
  3. Acceleration 0-200 km/h (0-124 mph): 9.9 s
  1. Dry weight: 1,422 kg (3,135 lb)
"One man, One Car, One Mission: Drive Faster than the Storm." That's the tagline for the first official video of the Gallardo replacement and we have included it below for your viewing pleasure.

To know more about the Huracán, visit the official website.

Adrenaline Shot: McLaren P1

Now that the venerable McLaren P1 is finally out, all the automotive magazines and TV shows have been chomping at the bit to give the newest bad boy on the block a proper thrashing. I mean, who wouldn't!? With 900+ HP on tap, running on sci-fi technology, the P1 has truly become the latest benchmark the realm of automobiledom. Designed by Air is what McLaren calls it and to know more about the design ethos, click here. With a starting price tag of over a Million Euros, it goes without saying that you aren't going to see too many of them on the road. Fortunately for us, the team at /Drive got their hands on the P1 along with Chris Goodwin, McLaren's Chief Test Driver in Abu Dhabi no less. Having spent a significant amount of time in the region, we can safely say that it is one of the best places to test out the P1 considering the road quality and vast expanse of near nothingness. This video is every car nut's wet dream. So turn off the lights, turn up the speakers, kick back and relax!

Critiqued Special: And the Oscar Goes to....

We’re finally here! Oscar Sunday 2014 is upon us, and the best and brightest of Hollywood will be at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles to honor the best of this past year in cinema for the 86th Academy Awards. We here at hapless geek are excited to see what unfolds, but it wouldn’t be a party without some bets and predictions for who will take home the golden statue. 

We’ll be making our guesses on the top categories of the night: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress, and Best Original and Adapted Screenplay. For news on who won these and the remainder of the night’s awards, log on to the Academy’s official website,!  

Best Original Screenplay

I’m giving this one to Spike Jonze for Her. While I loved Dallas Buyers Club a lot, the banter and overall writing of Her—especially for and between the two lead actors—was much fuller and richer than Dallas.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Richard Linklater could be due after not scoring for Before Sunrise/Sunset, but my money’s on John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave. Believe it or not, the slavery film is the least controversial of the litter in this category, with Captain Phillips, Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena all taking arguably unpopular liberties with the source material. That may hurt them all.

Best Supporting Actor

This is a tough category. The newcomer Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips throws a monkey wrench into the two-horse race between Jared Leto and Jonah Hill, in my opinion, but Leto was just amazing in Dallas Buyers Club and showed ridiculous range as Rayon. It pains me to say it, because Jonah Hill has been on a roll over the last three years, but my pick goes to Jared Leto.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence was the most entertaining out of the very funny ensemble of American Hustle, but Oscar just can’t ignore Lupita Nyong’o and her masterful performance. June Squibb may get a mention because she was the most colorful character in Nebraska, but if I was a betting man I’d say 12 Years a Slave wins this one.

Best Lead Actor

Matthew McConaughey, hands down. Leonardo DiCaprio was salaciously awesome in Wolf of Wall Street, but McConaughey completely transformed himself for this role, which the Academy rewards more often than not. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oscar finally comes to Leo after being overlooked twice before in this category, but it was just too striking a performance in Dallas Buyers Club for McConaughey to lose.

Best Lead Actress

Many people may have Cate Blanchett taking this home, but I wasn’t as floored by her performance in Blue Jasmine than in other roles she’s done, so I’m going to give this one to Sandra Bullock for Gravity. She carried 90% of this film, and while it wasn’t the most dialogue or plot-heavy work she’s done, it was captivating on-screen work nonetheless.

Best Director

This is another tough one. Because of the sheer breadth of work that needed to be done for this film just to get made, smart money is on Alfonso Cuarón to win this one for Gravity. My heart wants it to be Steve McQueen, but my gut believes it’s Cuarón’s to lose.

Best Picture

After all the reviews were said and done and I had to choose which of these nine films was best of 2013, the strongest performances and most deserving accolades go to 12 Years a Slave. Steve McQueen was fearless in his approach to this material, and the actors he commissioned for it brought their A-game from top to bottom. The Wolf of Wall Street gets honorable mention but I feel McQueen did much more with less in 12 Years than Scorsese did.

Critiqued: The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort was notorious for living in excess. Stock market fraud and swindling unsuspecting fathers and small-time businessmen were just another day at the office for the New York stockbroker in the 1990s. Belfort thumbed his nose at authority and convention to live the lavish life others could only dream of, if they weren’t in on the rouse themselves. However, it was also those actions that led him to spend time in federal prison for what was coined as a “pump and dump” scheme which ruined lives to the tune of $200 million. Belfort’s story was the inspiration for the 2000 independent film Boiler Room, starring Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Affleck and a young upstart in Vin Diesel, and now his memoirs have become the talk of Tinseltown, with Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort, in a role that surprises and impresses with the lengths he went to inhabit the lifestyle of a man who just cared about his inner circle and the next big payday. This marks the fifth film DiCaprio and Scorsese have made together, and this one just appeared to be a party of debauchery and over-the-top moviemaking, a departure of sorts from their earlier films together. It had the frenetic pace of Gangs of New York, and the intensity of The Aviator and The Departed, but on a level that seemed a little uncharted for director and star. The hijinks in this film only escalated from the very beginning, and things got crazier the deeper in we got.  But in typical Scorsese fashion, it was a rollicking ride from start to finish. Imagine the penultimate chapter in Goodfellas, where Henry Hill, high on cocaine, insomnia and paranoia that the feds are watching his every move, races around town trying to get his drug deal done. The pacing of those scenes is pretty much what you experience the entire 179 minutes of Wolf.

This leads us to our one and only gripe about this film: it is entirely too long for a black comedy, even for a Scorsese black comedy. As much as you want to revel in the decadence and wickedness of Belfort and his cronies, there were certain scenes that just ran way too long for its own good. We clocked at least 25 minutes of unnecessary plot development that would not have detracted from the overall quality of the film. It slowed the pace of the film to a screeching halt sometimes, where we found ourselves waiting for the next scene to appear so we can continue following the story. This point just may keep Scorsese from the podium as Best Director at this year’s Oscars—that, and the controversy surrounding the content of the film supposedly blindsiding moviegoers expecting something completely different.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street
Despite the controversy, DiCaprio was masterful as Jordan Belfort. The things he did in this film were different from anything we’ve seen him do on-screen. There are such extensive uses of drugs and alcohol and wild sexual activity in Wolf, mostly by Belfort and his second-in-command Donnie Azoff, played wonderfully by Jonah Hill, that it’s surprising this film didn’t receive an NC-17 (“X”) rating. One particular overdose scene comes to mind here, but we won’t spill the beans. Hill is turned loose in this movie as a faithful follower of Belfort’s, mesmerized by the flash and excess of The Wolf’s lifestyle. Australian actress Margot Robbie plays Naomi, Belfort’s mistress turned wife, and holds her own quite nicely when pitted against the juggernaut DiCaprio. Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler plays Belfort’s foe, FBI agent Patrick Denham, who is dedicated to bringing down the corrupt stockbroker. Other notable names in Wolf of Wall Street include Jon Bernthal, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin and a great cameo by Matthew McConaughey which helps to establish the kind of person Belfort will become.

This film is nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead and Supporting Actor for DiCaprio and Hill respectively, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire). Wolf was also nominated for four BAFTA awards and two Golden Globes, where DiCaprio took home the statue for Best Actor—Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Since the Oscars don’t separate acting categories between drama and musical/comedy like the Globes do, both DiCaprio and Hill have to compete with a tough lineup of actors. We think they are the underdogs to the favorites of the Dallas Buyers Club in McConaughey and Jared Leto, but you’ll see why we made our picks for all the major Oscar categories in our Predictions post right before the awards begin on March 2.  

P.J. Byrne (left), DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
On March 25, The Wolf of Wall Street will be released on Blu-ray and DVD. A four-hour Director’s Cut of the film is rumored to be available soon thereafter.

Critiqued: 12 Years a Slave

There’s a certain kind of discomfort that accompanies Steve McQueen’s films. Exploring the human rights of jailed ideologists in Hunger was his debut endeavor into cinema that earned him international acclaim. The specter of sexual depravity and family dynamic is scrutinized in great detail with his second feature film Shame, a film that many folks haven’t seen, but should. Now everyone will be forced to take notice of McQueen’s directing prowess with 12 Years a Slave, a brutally honest adaptation of the autobiography of Solomon Northrup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. To take already uncomfortable subject material and make it that much more uncomfortable to watch takes sheer guts and an arresting conviction of talent, and McQueen achieves this in spades.

Helping McQueen to reach this level of discomfort is a cadre of equally talented individuals. Leading the way is Chiwetel Ejiofor, portraying the captive freed man Northrup, and delivers a harrowing performance, exhibiting a broad range of emotions and solidifies his already impressive resume as a leading man (for those who have not seen Redbelt, you’ll not understand that last statement). Joining Ejiofor is a McQueen staple in Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, the cotton field plantation owner and prototypical slave master who runs a tight ship and spares no rod at the sign of disrespect. At his side is the ignominious Mistress Epps, played with surprising—here’s that word again—discomfort by Sarah Paulson. It is a performance that has to be seen to be believed. Rounding out the bit players in the picture are Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard and a pivotal cameo from Brad Pitt, who also served as executive producer.

Sarah Paulson and Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong’o is a relative newcomer to Hollywood, but did she ever make an impression. Her portrayal of the headstrong and defiant Patsey is another reason 12 Years a Slave is so impactful. The character undergoes tremendous physical and emotional turmoil that reverberates throughout the film, but it’s her sheer presence on-screen that earns her an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role. There is one scene in particular that we feel earned her this nod, and it is not undeserved, but we also feel Paulson should have received similar acclaim for her performance, because it was so against type (not counting her stint on American Horror Story) and it drove the very impressive performance of Nyong’o to achieve the level it had.

But let’s pause for a bit and talk about how this film looks and feels. Steve McQueen shoots beautiful pictures, as evidenced by his two previous features and his many short films. His signature movement, however, has a particularly added effect with Slave. McQueen tends to linger on some of his shots at pivotal moments in his films. These holds usually force the viewer to ask certain questions about what they’re seeing and pontificate what’s coming next. This is where McQueen makes his bones. What you expect to see next rarely ever happens. Now, we won’t be giving the particular scene away in Slave where McQueen utilizes this device, but what we can tell you is that it forces that discomfort and introspection as it relates to the film. And what your reaction to it will be dictates your feeling overall to how you watch the remainder of the film. Few directors have this ability, and McQueen has perfected it to the point where his Oscar nomination as Best Director is not only deserved, but should almost be expected on a yearly basis.

Along with McQueen, Nyong’o, Ejiofor, Fassbender and the film itself nominated for Academy Awards this year, 12 Years a Slave adds four more nods on the night, including Costume Design (Patricia Norris – The Elephant Man, Scarface) and Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley – Red Tails, Three Kings, Undercover Brother). These two awards could go the film’s way, but we won’t be surprised if Nyong’o captures the golden statue for Supporting Actress as the upset of the night.

Michael Fassbender, Nyong'o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave will be available on Blu-ray and DVD the Tuesday after the Oscars, March 4.

UPDATE: Of the nine categories 12 Years a Slave was nominated for, the film took home three, including the final award of the evening, Best Picture. Lupita Nyong'o received the first Oscar of the telecast, winning for Best Supporting Actress, and scribe John Ridley received the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. hapless geek's 2014 Oscar Wrap-Up covers this film and many more and can be found here.

Critiqued: Nebraska

Sometimes the perception of one’s life isn’t seen from the same angles others see them. You set your life up for maximum fulfillment, for financial stability, for the family. Whatever the reason, the goal in one’s life is to be happy and have purpose. In Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, that perception isn’t particularly reality.

Bruce Dern is Woody Grant, a quiet, set in his ways, alcoholic-in-denial old codger that is on a mission: he wants to make his way to Nebraska from Montana to claim a million-dollar prize, by any means necessary. This, of course, is not at all fun to deal with for Woody’s family. His earnest yet unmotivated youngest son David (played by comedian Will Forte) wants to be there for his family, but is going through his own issues in life, so to escape it all he decides to placate his dad and drive him to Nebraska to claim the prize.

In Woody’s way are relatives, old friends of his who’d love nothing more than to have a piece of his newfound fortune, and his no-nonsense, unapologetic wife Kate (played with reckless abandon by June Squibb) who turns out to be more of the glue that holds the family together than they realize. Along with their oldest and most composed son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), the Grants have a family trip for the ages.

Bruce Dern plays an aloof man ever so close to the light at the end of his tunnel and wants to settle all his accounts, and does it in a way that makes you think about your parents and the battle we all lose: the battle of time. You want Woody’s ending to be positive, knowing full well that it’s going nowhere in that direction. June Squibb has more fire and gumption than anyone else in the family and is not afraid to ruffle a few or all feathers, which makes her very entertaining to watch. Rounding out the cast is Stacy Keach, Dern’s nemesis and all-around creep, the man still living his life like the high school bully he seemed to be. 

It was an interesting decision by director Alexander Payne to not use color in this film. It wasn’t intended to make the film feel like a period piece, or draw attention to the characters any more than it would if it weren’t in black and white. In our opinion, it speaks more to the melancholy and the mood of the characters themselves. Recent films shot in partial or no color tends to detract from the whole, unless the performances of the characters are so engaging you’d gladly overlook it. For Nebraska, the beautiful landscapes of the North and Midwest United States can’t be appreciated because of the lack of color, but it also achieves the necessary objective of focusing on the story—unlike Payne’s previous Academy Award-winning film The Descendants. This film is more visceral in its storytelling and makes the viewer appreciate the character development over the scenery.

Bruce Dern and Will Forte in Nebraska
This film is nominated for six Oscars, including Lead and Supporting nods for Dern and Squibb, Cinematography and Directing. Great straight-man performances by usual funnymen Bob Odenkirk and Will Forte didn’t earn them any accolades, but were very convincing choices for the roles they played. Squibb’s endearing and at times shocking performance will earn her a lot of Oscar attention, but the category is very steep this year and may be tough for her to come out on top.

Nebraska just released on Blu-ray and DVD February 25, just in time to watch before the Oscars on March 2.

Critiqued: Philomena

When I was a kid, many Saturday nights my sister and I sat with our mom to watch PBS and their block of British comedies: Keeping Up Appearances, Chef, Fawlty Towers and As Time Goes By. And as much as “the Bucket woman” tickled our fancies, it was the last show of the night that always intrigued me. As Time Goes By starred Geoffrey Palmer and Judi Dench as former lovers that rekindled their affair decades later. I can’t quite place the reason why this show over all the others fascinated me. Was it the dry humor? Was it the absence of a laugh track? There was something about that show that drew me in. After watching Philomena, I could finally put my finger on it. Dame Judi Dench is a master at her craft.

Dench, in all her sleuthing glory, portrays Philomena Lee, a woman who gained worldwide notoriety for attempting to find the son she gave birth to out of wedlock that was subsequently taken from her by Irish nuns in the 1950s. On her journey Lee’s accompanied by Martin Sixsmith, a writer down on his luck after getting sacked by the Labour Party as an adviser and sympathizes with her plight, seeing this as a worthy story to pursue. Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan, helps to uncover more than just a stolen child, but an even larger conspiracy that unravels like a good British mystery. The film is based on Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and is directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen).

While Coogan’s and Dench’s chemistry radiate on the screen, the film itself is mediocre at best, relying on artistic license and slight exaggeration to push the story along in an entertaining fashion. Most viewers will see this as more an indictment on the Catholic faith than Philomena’s search for answers, and they’d be correct on most accounts. Every film needs an obstacle, and for this situation there were far less acceptable choices from the one ultimately used that would have hurt the film overall. I understand the reasoning behind the plot choice, and it certainly allowed Dench to sink her teeth into the story and show us why she’s so good.

Philomena is nominated for four Academy Awards, as well as three BAFTA awards (winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay) and three Golden Globes. While Best Picture seems to be a long shot, one category that may get some traction is for Alexandre Desplat’s original score, which is truly delightful and varied given the many moods the film takes on. Desplat has been nominated for an Oscar in six of the past eight years, so he’s certainly due for a golden statue.

For Dench, she has a massive hill to climb to win Best Actress this year, going up against Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams, Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, and given her failing health as of late, her presence in Hollywood during the Oscar promotional tour has been miniscule, which unfortunately may also hurt her chances. What won’t hurt her chances is the performance she gives on-screen. Her ability to show compassion, wonderment, strength and vulnerability with just a few words and a wry smile is what makes Judi Dench one of her generation’s greatest actors.

Philomena is currently in select theaters and will be on DVD and Blu-ray this April.

UPDATE: No luck finding Oscar for Philomena this year, as they were shut out of all nominated categories, but it's still worth a watch. Look for it on Blu-ray and DVD April 15.

Analyzed: Project Tango

"The future is awesome. We can build it faster together." That's the tag line from the latest venture from the geniuses at Google; Project Tango. Leave it up to them to come up with real world applications of something that we used to see in Sci-Fi TV shows or movies back in the day.

Project Tango is a focused exploration of what might be possible in a mobile platform. It is not part of Android today (even though it is being built on Android). It is still in its infancy and the technology begins the transition out of research labs into the hands of millions of people.  The goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion. 

The current prototype is a 5” phone containing customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. These sensors allow the phone to make over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, updating its position and orientation in real-time, combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around you.

What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping? What if directions to a new location didn’t stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually-impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places? What if you could search for a product and see where the exact shelf is located in a super-store? These are the questions Project Tango is trying to answer. While no actual application has been determined yet, it is only a matter of time before the boffins at Google (or the other institutions that are partnering in this initiative) figure it out!

To learn more about Project Tango, visit their website or view the video below:

Source: Project Tango

Critiqued: Gravity

The first thing that should be said about this film is that it took over four years to make. Four. Principal photography only took about 3 months. The pre-visualization, post-production and all the rest of the preparation for the movie to reach your Cineplex took another 48 months to create. There’s a lot to be said about dedication to the craft if you’re Alfonso Cuarón and the team he assembled to create the feeling of weightlessness, zero gravity and sheer wonderment that can be seen in Gravity.

There are few films that are legitimately better to watch in 3-D as well. Avatar and Hugo come to mind off the top of our heads, and that’s just in the last five years. We can now add one more name to this list. Gravity cannot be explained or experienced watching at home, unless your home comes with a top-of-the-line 60-inch 3-D HDTV with the best Blu-ray player and surround sound system money can buy. Gravity is so grandiose in its scope, so beautiful in its peace and horrifying in its terror that viewing it on your smartphone would be doing the film a grave injustice.

Cuarón created a film that made you feel right next to the action and made us think twice about joining the Space Program. He co-wrote the screenplay with his son as well, but honestly, it’s less about the words being spoken than it is about the emotion those words evoked. The script created a sense of panic that was so apparent and so palpable it kept you on the edge of your seat. None more so than the panic that Sandra Bullock’s character lives in throughout the film. Her performance was a tour de force indeed, carrying a significant portion of the load on-screen. And this is not a personal affront to George Clooney, but he reminded me of Katie Holmes in Batman Begins: just big enough of a name to make you care and watch, but completely interchangeable in terms of character. It would have been just as powerful a film if instead of Clooney, Tom Hanks or Bradley Cooper was Bullock’s other half.

No, this film’s strength solely resides within the visual aesthetic. Gravity is breathtaking. The cinematography is thrilling and vast and its accompanying score adds to the tension of the piece. It can be argued that there’s so much scope to the film that it’s difficult to take everything in in one sitting, and there is a bit of truth to that, but let’s face it. It’s space, there’s much less to see in the surrounding atmosphere than any other film. It certainly doesn’t detract from the effect it has on the viewer. It’s a dizzying, emotionally drenching piece that regardless of its authenticity lends an entirely new perspective on how the uninformed view space exploration.

Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity. Courtesy
Gravity is currently nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and Cuarón has earned praise as the recipient of the 2014 Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for best direction. Cuarón is hoping to earn his first Oscar, having been nominated for Best Writing in both 2003 (Original Screenplay – Y tu mamá también) and 2007 (Adapted Screenplay – Children of Men) and for Film Editing in 2007 for Children of Men. Sandra Bullock is looking to earn her second golden statue for Best Actress, having won it in 2010 for The Blind Side.

Gravity will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25.

UPDATE: Gravity was the big winner of the evening, taking home seven statues out of the 10 nominated categories, including Alfonso Cuarón's first Oscar for Directing.

Critiqued: Her

There are few actors today that can make you feel like no one truly knows them by the roles they inhabit. There isn’t a particular mannerism or quirk that makes them iconic or unique, they just do the work they’re hired to do and deliver top-rate performances. They seem transformed on-screen, poised to embody the true meaning of “actor” and are willing to go to great lengths to bring authenticity and credibility to everything they put their name on. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman was one of those actors, as well as Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand. And for someone who doesn’t seem entirely comfortable embracing his celebrity, Joaquin Phoenix never ceases to amaze us with the sheer genius of his work. Watching Her reminds us why we can’t help but love him as a leading man, character actor and everything in between.

He was gloriously uncomfortable to watch in Gladiator as the antagonist Commodus to Russell Crowe’s Maximus, he channeled the spirit of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, and took a tacit and powerful turn in The Master by a less-is-more fashion that needed to be seen to be believed. With Her, Phoenix plays coy and quirky with a genuine and endearing flavor that, again, forces you to believe that not just anyone, but he, specifically, can legitimately fall in love with an artificially intelligent “woman” with every fiber of his being. He’s on a journey of self-discovery and seems desperate enough in his life to entertain the idea of a virtual companion in a way that isn’t sleazy or overtly sexual, but rather heartfelt and charming.

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore in Her. Courtesy Huffington Post

Speaking of the AI supporting actress, we at hapless geek contend that if we had any kind of say in nominating for an Academy Award, a voice could be in the conversation this year. That voice, brought to us by the ultra-talented Scarlett Johansson, did just as much to make the viewer believe in the humanity of Samantha, a computerized bits-and-bytes entity that served as the “personalized companion” to flawed human Theodore, than Phoenix’s actual on-screen portrayal did. They cultivated a beautiful love affair that doesn’t seem so far-fetched in the fast-accelerating world of technology, and made us think about how easy it could be to lose one’s self to that fantasy.

A lot of these performances couldn’t be supplied with the proper intent without a strong and provocative script, and that was provided by the film’s director Spike Jonze. This type of script shouldn’t be a surprise to fans of Jonze, who was responsible for or contributed to films like Adaptaion. and Being John Malkovich. With Her, however, Jonze also forces a commentary on how difficult and potentially dangerous our reliance on technology can be, how emotional a connection it can create and how crippling the loss of that connection can be as well. It’s a struggle with self-consciousness with Her, and how submitting to carnal desires can be achieved in both traditional and non-traditional ways. The conceptual nuggets are aplenty in this film and Jonze—with the able help of Phoenix, Johansson and an equally impressive Amy Adams to boot—crafts them in the most beautiful of ways.

Joaquin Phoenix in Her. Courtesy
Her is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Score and Best Original Screenplay. It is scheduled to release on Blu-ray and DVD later this year.

UPDATE: Spike Jonze won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay this year, much to our delight. Check out the 2014 Oscar Wrap-Up here and see who else made Oscar night a memorable one.