Friday, July 30, 2010

The End of Summer

For all comprehensive purposes, the summer movie season is pretty much over.  Sure there's still a few big Hollywood leftovers.  Dinner for Schmucks, despite terrible reviews will likely perform well on the charms of Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will appeal to the nerds; Eat, Pray, Love is for the ladies, while The Expendables is there for the male baby boomers.  But really, we're headed in the final stretch; the dog days of a summer movie season that now regularly starts a month and a half before the actual calendar change.  What has been learned.  Surprisingly, this year has felt like the revenge of the moviegoer, and for that I'm fairly proud.  Many of the superfluous, franchise bait excess has been discarded by smart discerning film fans.  Why didn't Iron Man 2 exceed the gross the original?  Because it wasn't as good, pure and simple; and while I balk at anyone who would regard a film that grossed north of $300 million a failure, it most certainly felt uneventful.

The same could be said for forgettable depository nonsense like Robin Hood, Prince of Persia, Sex & the City 2, The A-Team, Shrek Forever After, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and The Last Airbender.  Whew!  Fortunately for smart discerning moviegoers, hope did eventually come in a wonderful two-week period in July when two very different films with two very audiences opened to respectable numbers and glowing reviews.  The films I speak of are Inception and The Kids Are All Right.  What both films represent in a summer movie season of regret and longing is that specific, intelligent films do exist in the proverbial waste land of noise and pandering to the desirable younger male demographic.  They represent, in a clear way, that pop entertainment can be just that, but also carefully shaded with bits of substance for those who crave it.  It's important to note, I think, that Inception, courtesy of the most consistent big budget pop filmmaker of the moment, was a product of Warner Bros., and The Kids Are All Right an independently financed Sundance hit, with the fortunate nurturing of Focus Features, proving a upswing in the recent trend of smaller scaled films having trouble breaking out of the major cities.  Big will always have it's place in the summer time, but small needs a place too.

Other lessons learned from this season at the movies, aside from Christopher Nolan's pure awesomeness and sperm donor comedies can be heartfelt and smart, were:

  • 80s nostalgia works, except when it doesn't (The Karate Kid was a big success because it appealed to those who grow up with the original, as well as their kids; plus Will Smith's son likely inherited a few of his genes; however The A-Team stalled because all it had going for it was the hardcore fan base, and really how big can that be?)
  • Tom Cruise needs to get Paul Thomas Anderson to write him another part; as evident by Knight & Day's blase reception.  Give up the action star model for a while, and delve into character work-- you might regain your reputation, and possibly get that Oscar!
  • Pixar is still the king of everything, evidenced by the singular beauty of Toy Story 3, which just might be the best third act in Hollywood history.  I said it, hyperbole be mad! 
  • Jerry Bruckheimer may have totally lost it altogether, based on Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
    • 3-D works, except when it doesn't!  Nobody really complained about those high admission prices for Toy Story 3 or Despicable Me, because the product was good, but really how long will it be until the idea of 3-D is almost totally rejected if Hollywood keeps offering shoddy, and hideously ugly products like Shrek Forever After and The Last Airbender.  Remember, 3-D isn't exactly a new filmmaking device, it's been around for decades, and has died before!
    • Angelina Jolie is the new Tom Cruise.  Since her Salt was originally scripted for Cruise, I suggest that every film Cruise is offered should eventually be played by Jolie... 

    Of course, now the subject goes from popcorn to sincerity, as we move towards the second half of 2010, and the real ugliness starts to come.  As Oscar bait films come out left and right, toppling one another in buzz, or hype and fancy packages.  Thinking of the first half of the year so far, we have a few legitimate Oscar contenders in Inception, The Kids Are All Right and Toy Story 3.  Robert Duvall performance in Get Low has received kind words in the best actor category, while actress in shaping to be one of the strongest in a while with The Kids' Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the mix, as well as Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence, assuming the conversation continues on both films.  Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me should stick it around for animated feature, while Inception will likely lead in technical nominations.  And if the critics remember all the way back in February, many of them were kind to Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer and Martin Scorcese's Shutter Island.  Meanwhile, spring indies Please Give and Greenberg might have a small hope in the original screenplay category if a few things fumble in the wintery months.

    I'm getting ahead of myself...I'll stop and regroup.

      Wednesday, July 28, 2010

      Inception "Hints"

      I feel borderline obsessed, but Inception is a worthy movie to obsess over.  Some helpful\trippy hints to deciphering the labyrinthine plot.

      (courtesy of In Contention)

      Sucker Punch

      The teaser for Zack Synder's latest, Sucker Punch had is auspicious debut last weekend at Comic-Con.  I don't know what to make of this at all.  I'm intrigued by the cast-- Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, and newcomer Emily Browning (a rumored choice for David Fincher's upcoming American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)-- but what the hell is this supposed to be.  I'm fine with the women kicking ass premise, but what's with the dragons and stuff, and the resorting back to 300-style visual palette.  I thought Watchmen was a hopeful step towards some kind of maturity Mr. Synder.  Artisan or hack, I can't decide.

      Tuesday, July 27, 2010

      Best Foreign Language Film

      I've been thinking about the dearth of quality foreign films available right now.  Aside from The Girl With... films, not a whole lot is sparking much interest with me.  Then I started thinking about the foreign film Oscar over the past few years.  The often criticized category that like everything else, seems more politically motivated, than rewarding quality films.  Really the process really should be changed.  Right now, the Academy rules are: a country can submit one film, and a specialized panel is set up, and in order to vote on the foreign language Oscar, one must view each and every film submitted.  Then a semi-final takes place and widdles down the submissions to about 10, out of which 5 will eventually be nominated, and one will win.  Seems like an awful process that only a few working people could actually participate in.  The Foreign Film winners of the last decade were:

      2000:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Taiwan-- directed by Ang Lee
        • The first film to win in the last decade was a hard feat to top.  Not only is Lee's sweeping martial epic one of the most Oscar-ed foreign films of all time, it's all the highest grossing foreign film at the North American box office, a feat it's held for nearly ten years.  It's the only foreign film to over top $100 million, and leads by a significant amount.  Of course, it all validated since the film is gorgeous, and an engrossing mash-up of David Lean aesthetics crossing with Matrix-coolness.  Mr. Lee, a big enough name at the time of release, has done pretty well since I'd say.
        • Box office: $128 million
        • 2001:  No Man's Land, Bosnia-- directed by Danis Tanovic
          • Otherwise known as the film that beat out the audience favorite, Amelie, suggesting sometimes the panel can make interesting and bold choices unswayed by sentiment, because No Man's Land is a fiercely intelligent film, and the only film to win the award from Bosnia-- which seems a bit of a cheat since part of the film is in English, but whatever.  Tanovic is returning with Cirkus Columbia, which will premiere at this years Toronto Film Festival. 
          • Box office: $1.0 million
          • 2002:  Nowhere in Africa, Germany-- directed by Caroline Link
            • Suggesting that perhaps even a perimeter story on Jews will get some Oscar love, this is probably one of the least celebrated wins of the past decade, especially since it's competition included: The Man Without a Past (from master Abbias Kaurismaki) and Hero (from master Zhang Yimou.)  On the same token it's always nice to see a woman joining the boys club.  Link followed up here win with A Year Ago in Winter (2008.)
            • Box office: $6.1 million
          • 2003:  The Barbarian Invasions, Canada-- directed by Denys Arcand
            • Arcand won the top prize for his sequel of sorts to The Decline of Western Civilization (1986, nominated for foreign film in its year.)  He was also nominated in the best original original screenplay category.
            • Box office: $8.5 million
          •  2004: The Sea Inside, Spain-- directed by Alejandro Amenabar
            • 2004 was actually quite a solid year for foreign films, with both Almodovar's Bad Education, and Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries coming out, and not only making solid coin, but receiving plentiful acclaim.  Alas neither film was selected and the big winner was Amenabar's moving biopic of Ramon Sampedro and his thirty year fight for the right to die after a becoming paralyzed.  Javier Bardem starred and is typically affecting.  Amenabar came on the scene in a major way with 2001's The Others, and returned to mixed reviews last year with Agora, a historical epic starring Rachel Weisz.  The Sea Inside is pure schmaltz, I'd say, but of a very high polished kind.
            • Box office: $2.1 million
          •  2005:  Tsotsi, South Africa-- directed by Gavin Hood
            • Tsotsi, the first South African winner, was a hard and fairly unflinching look at a Johannesburg gang leader, and a clear antithesis to the typical more emotional stories that this category tends to go for.  I've only seen it once, and I'm sort of on the fence about it, as well as Hood's filmmaking abilities.  Since Tsotsi, he's moved to Hollywood, as the director of Rendition starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon, and Wolverine.
            • Box office: $2.9 million
          • 2006:  The Lives of Others, Germany-- directed by Florian Henckel von Dommersmarck
            • Germany is the only country to have won the prize twice during the course of the decade, and this one probably was more of a surprise.  Likely because, like most foreign films, they never seem to get released until the Oscars come, what with the advertising hook and all.  The Lives of Others was up against a surprise foreign juggernaut in 2006, being Guillermo del Toro's amazing Pan's Labyrinth.  While I concede The Lives of Others is a pretty superb film, I still can't help but be a tad bitter over it.  I know the Academy doesn't really "get" fantasy films, but an exception should be made for the better good ever once in a while.  Also snubbed, Amodovar's Volver, again inexplicably not submitted by Spain; what's their deal anyway?  von Dommersmarck is moving to Hollywood, coming out with The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie some time next year.
            • Box office: $11.2
          • 2007:  The Counterfeiters, Austria-- directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
            • Ruzowitzky, director of Matt LeBlanc\Eddie Izzard WWII drag film All the Queen's Men in 2001 won the big award for this, about a master counterfeiter on the eve of WWII.  I haven't seen this one, and while it hold the distinction of being the first winner from Austria, I am hard pressed to think it's any better than 2007's brightest international piece, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which wasn't nominated, in one of the most erroneous snubs, I believe of all time.
            • Box office: $5.4 million
          • 2008:  Departures, Japan-- directed by Yojiro Takita
            • Again the Oscar's went with emotional schmaltz, over substantial artistry-- Departures competition included the top Cannes winner, French film The Class, as well as Israel's Waltz With Bashir, both of which are far more technically accomplished.  Then again, simplicity works too, when done effectively.  I haven't seen this one yet, because the story just cries for noisy violin sounds.
            • Box office: $1.4 million
          • 2009:  The Secret in Their Eyes, Argentina-- directed by Juan Jose Campanella
            • In an ongoing theme, sentiment wins out over artistic virtuosity, and while The Secret in Their Eyes plays a bit like an episode of Law & Order (Campanella should know, he's also directed episode of L&O: Special Victims Unit, as well as House), and yes the competition including intriguing, provocative think pieces from some of the worlds current best: Michael Hanake's The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, we must also remember that the foreign branch of the academy is filled mostly by the very senior contingent, and not the radicals, if any exist.  This marks Campanella's second nomination, his first being 2001's Son of the Bride.
            • Box office: $6.1 million (and counting)


            In memory of Inception's awesome second weekend hold at the box office (off a mere 32% from its opening, an un-heard of event in big movie\tentpole land) and also with some time to kill, I viewed Christopher Nolan's first feature the Brit crime thriller Following, a crafty little noir from 1998.  The look and scope is small, but the nimble and amusing storytelling and non-linear structure of Following serves as a nice introduction to the present day Nolan creations.  The film uses elements that Nolan continually revisits; here, not unlike Inception, it's a heist film, but an atypical one.  We meet a young writer with no name (played by Jeremy Theobald) whose a bit of loner, with shaggy hair who follows people.  The motivations aren't particularly clear why, but he scopes people out and journeys with them in secret on their day, perhaps because he's devoid of any journey in his life.  One such guy turns out to be burglar.  His name is Cobb, not unlike Inception's main character, and is delightfully played by Alex Haw in what is sadly his only credit.  Cobb recruits the young writer to break into peoples houses with him.  From the beginning of Cobb's entrance, I was instantly reminded of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train-- I'm not quite sure it's a relevant companion film, but memories are important here, as well with Nolan film discussion.

            As with most of Nolan's later films, there's rules set out on the onset, obviously meant to be broken later.  Cobb details that the point of the his break-ins is not so much what is taken, but in that the burglarized people will appreciate more once something is gone.  The film goes down a fairly convoluted path, but it's exciting and quite intricate.  The film is available on Netflix instant play and I recommend it.  Shot in beautiful black and white, this nifty, made on the extremely cheap film is actually quite sophisticated, finely displaying Nolan's expert handling of pace and control. 

            One thing that is apparent on his debut is the insignificance of female characters in any way.  I do wish that this changes as Nolan continues to awe and delight.  There's a female character in Following, and she is well played by Lucy Russell (Eric Rohmer fans will recognize her from The Lady and the Duke).  However, it's a fairly icy and flimsy character, and more than a bit familiar.  The trait has nastily been exhibited in Memento, Insomnia, the Batman flicks, and while I dare say I enjoyed Marion Cottilard and Ellen Page in Inception, the criticism is still fairly apt.

            Of course one of his wonderful traits is exhibited as well-- he's a master at the art of the mindfuck.  While the reveal in Following isn't nearly as intricate or head-spinning as Memento, where the ante was raising mightily, or Inception; there's a trap for the young writer, and it's a good one.  Watching Following is almost like watching the birth of something great; I wish I saw it before he became so mind-blowingly popular, so I could authentically experience the film, without the reputation surrounding it.  However, it's still a fresh, brisk (very brisk at 70 minutes) film noir that serves as a great appetizer for what would come.

            Friday, July 23, 2010

            Revisiting "The Opposite of Sex"

            It's been twelve years since the debut of Don Roos' The Opposite of Sex, perhaps the most scathing cinematic document of Ms. Christina Ricci.  For in 1998, Ricci was the undisputed indie queen, thanks primarily to her manipulative, bratty interpretation of Dede Truit.  It's still arguably her best role (in my mind, it's between this and Addams Family Values-- I do love me some of her Wednesday Addams.)  Ricci was also had The Ice Storm, Buffalo 66 and Pecker hit cinemas in a years time.  Thankfully the movie still holds up in that charmingly self aware verve that made it a minor success in 1998.  I simultaneously felt nostalgic and also a longing for Ricci to come back in a major role again soon.  Surely some smart filmmaker can come back to capitalize on her abundant gifts for screen bitchery.  Her Dede is a straight talker claiming on the very first bit of narration:

            "I don't have a heart of gold, and I don't get one later"

             It's a perfect setup to a tale of scandal.  For those who haven't seen this joyously fun movie the gist is:  Dede is a trashy gal from Louisiana visits half brother Bill (Martin Donovan), steals his dim boyfriend Matt (Ivan Sergei), gets pregnant, and schemes, steals, and blackmails her way to support the mess she's gotten into.  Also in the mix are Bill's needy friend Lucia (Lisa Kudrow) and super-cop Carl (Lyle Lovett.)  For such a cynical movie however, it's an incredibly generous comedy, with ample opportunities for its talented cast to shine.  Aside from Ricci, Lisa Kudrow is delightful as the endlessly bitter Lucia.  One choice exchange:

            Dede:  How does a woman get so bitter?
            Lucia:  Observation.

            The film surprisingly did pretty well come awards season.  Ricci received a Golden Globe nomination for actress in a comedy, Kudrow (right in the height of Friends popularity in a decidedly anti-Phoebe Buffay role) won best supporting actress from the NY Film Critics, and Roos received a WGA nomination for original screenplay.  Yet in a perfect world Ricci would have earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination and Roos a Screenplay nod-- not surprising that he didn't; the movie is quite vulgar and gay, and not the tragically historic sense that the Academy condones.  Roos returned a couple of years later with the similar poly-sexual dynamics with the ensemble comedy Happy Endings (featuring a killer performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal and another ace one from Kudrow), and a follow-up, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, featuring Natalie Portman and Kudrow again coming out hopefully very soon.

            Thursday, July 22, 2010

            The Many Faces of Natalie

            I really don't have much to write about this other than I think it's an awesome image, being one of the first stills to be released from what is hopefully Darren Aronofsky's latest awesome film, Black Swan.  The film's cinematographer is Matthew Libatique, whose photographed all of Aronofsky's works, with the except of The Wrestler.  He's also the preferred lenser of Spike Lee and John Favreau.  While Oscar hasn't paid attention to his particular gifts just yet, he did receive an Independent Spirit Award for Requiem For a Dream.

            Let Me In

            The unveiling of the poster to Let Me In, a film it must be noted, I'm sort of opposed to.  First off, it's a remake of the 2008's Swedish delight, Let the Right One In, perhaps the finest vampire film in the past decade-- my humble apologies to the Twilight contingent and the True Blood-ites.  Netflix subscribers, it's currently available on instant play and an absolute must see for genre followers, as well as film lovers (and it's at #204 on IMDb's Top 250 list, for extra cool points.)  What I'm opposed too mostly is that I don't believe an American remake will particularly add anything (and the moniker, "from the director of Cloverfield," doesn't exactly make me pin either-- no offense to the film or it's fans.)  It's a subtle, beautifully crafted piece of suspenseful storytelling, that for the most part, I nervously think won't translate particularly well.  Of course, perhaps if the film works at all more people will check out the inspiration, and will be awed, and it's a film worthy awe-ing.  The remake stars tween de jour, Chloe Moretz, of Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer fame (I'm still on the fence about her; liked Hit Girl however), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road.)  The only piece of casting that I kind of love is Richard Jenkins in the role of "The Father,"-- it kind of seems perfect to those who have seen the original, right?  And although, I'm hating on this film rather hard at the moment, I kind of dig the poster, and the trailer (posted below), while seemingly hitting all the original's beats seems well put together.  So, I'll be cringing all the way to theater, when I'm suckered into seeing it...


            I've been sitting on this one for a while, mostly because Cyrus, I think, is a fairly thin film.  Also I kind of wanted to take in a second viewing before I completely made up my mind.  And while the film, in it's limited release, has earned a fair share of critical praise and been a brisk performer for specialty movies, I, unfortunately, try as I might can't count myself as a fan.  It's an icky, not especially funny, not especially dark, wannabe quirky comedy about a middle-aged man, John, played by John C. Rielly who develops a romance with Molly (Marisa Tomei), only to be tormented by her odd grown-up son, played by Jonah Hill, in a performance very much resembling everything else he's ever done.  The film was written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, in their first semi-major gig since coming on to indie scene with mumblecore signatures like Baghead and The Puffy Chair.

            It seems the film wants to be the sort to specialize in those all-too-human moments of awkwardness, which as first seems fairly relatable until it gets icky (I'm sorry for over-using the word but I think it's the best adjective to define the film's odd brand of humor.)  There's a smart meet cute moment at a party, where John meets Molly-- he's a bit drunk and perhaps a tad too honest, and she's smitten by his refreshing candor.  The moment where boyfriend meets girlfriend's son, again is something acceptable awkward in dating, but what grows out of this is perhaps a too strained need for awkward socializing. 

            There's not much to fault on the actors, Reilly does a good job of filling in a lonely man longing for companionship, never quite getting over his now seven-year divorce from first wife Jamie (played effortlessly, as usual, by Catherine Keener, perhaps the ultimate saving grace in any film.)  Tomei is alternatively sexy and real as woman forced for the first time to choose between romantic relationship and  son, however some of her choices never seem to be all that believable.  I'd say that's perhaps more of a script problem than Tomei's.  And then there's Hill, in a performance always seemingly winking at the digital camera, whose faux sincerity never quite jells fully as particularly funny, nor creepy.

            It's Keener, however, as the woman who put John into his fragile emotional state that I think serves as the sort of moral center here.  In a role that quite paper-thin, this majestic actress conjures I think the only genuine moments in the film, carefully constructing a character who first off demands John become social to begin with, and also to stop acting like a crazy person, when the self-sabotage sets in.  It's an ace in the hole in an otherwise meddling film.  C-

            Black Swan to Open Venice Film Festival

            While the full line-up of the 67th Annual Venice Film Festival has yet to be unveiled, their website is confirming that Darren Aronofsky's latest, Black Swan, will be the opening night attraction, and be in competition.  Described as a psychological drama set in the New York Ballet, focusing on the rivalry between two ballerinas, played by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.  The supporting cast includes Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, and Winona Ryder.  I'm sooo looking forward to this, so I wish I was in the film elite and that I could fly to Venice on a whim for this.  The movie is being released later this year by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

            Aronofsky's latest triumph, The Wrestler won the top award at the Venice Film Festival in 2008, where it debuted and assuredly awed.  As an avid fan of Mr. Aronofsky's work (even the the much reviled The Fountain is such an incoherently interesting feature, it's hard to completely loathe, I'd say-- I think it flawed, but hypnotic), I'm anxious and nervous about this one, but since he's proven such an assured, often brilliant filmmaker, I think it's safe to say, that at the very least, there's a nugget of something here.  Just as so, I'm always curious about the major film festival, and the big ones (Venice and Toronto) are just over a month away.  Venice starts September 1 to September 11.

            While other titles haven't been made official yet, speculation is that Julian Schnabel's latest, Miral, his follow-up to 2007's The Diving Bell & the Butterfly starring Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) will debut as well, as well as Sofia Coppola's latest, Somewhere, starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning (remember Lost in Translation made it's big splash in 2003 at Venice for a sense of history), as well as Tom Hopper's (HBO's John Adams), The King's Speech starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter.  The big question however is if Terrence Malick's latest, The Tree of Life, might make it's premiere at Venice, after missing on Cannes.  I have a feeling I may never see it!

            Wednesday, July 21, 2010


            Here's the trailer to Howl, the Allen Ginsberg biography starring James Franco in the starring role.  The film was the opening movie at this years Sundance Film Festival, and features a terrific cast-- David Strathairn, John Hamm, Mary Louise-Parker, Jeff Daniels and Bob Balaban.  The directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman sure have a fine pedigree with gay friendly themes as evident by the Oscar winning The Life & Times of Harvey Milk as well as the illuminating gay cinema treatise, The Celluloid Closet.  That being said, the film opened Sundance with mixed reviews, and even the trailer (which focuses on the obscenity trail Ginsberg faced after his poem, "Howl" premiered) looks very smallish and perhaps a bit too esoteric for even the most faithful independent moviegoer.  I'm still looking forward nonetheless-- Franco has proven himself at this point to be a striking versatile actor, and the films distributor, Oscillioscope (founded by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch) is shaping up to be a formidable independent company, as evident by past successes Wendy & Lucy, and last year's The Messenger, which managed two Oscar nominations for supporting actor and original screenplay.  Howl may not duplicate that success, but if nothing else it should be an interesting story.

            Tuesday, July 20, 2010

            And the Backlash Begins...

            This does not relate to Inception, whose backlash I personally have no interest or time for.  I hearted the movie very much, and a damned Rotten Tomato score isn't going to change that-- it's all about the discussion here; let's debate and talk about it, that's what is so exciting about about Nolan's achievement, I feel.  This backlash occurs from a singularly piece of garbage written in the New York Post by columnist Andrea Peyser, in which the subject is the other awesome movie currently playing: The Kids Are All Right.  Here's I suppose what I was dreading, but prepared for: the critical treatise of the whole gay parents with children hate machine coming out.  I realize this is only the New York Post, and hardly a respectable source of journalistic integrity, but the hateful vile spun about is just the sort that needs to exit the American subconscious.

            Peyser's words:

            It reaches further than the gay-cowboy romp "Brokeback Mountain," whose characters maintained a sense of otherness while shielding the kids from their shenanigans. In this movie, exposing kids is the entire point.

            And this is how Hollywood does an end run around morality.

            "Hollywood has set the stage for the gay agenda, nothing new," said Laura Bailey, Brooklyn mom of two boys. "Why do you think they did propaganda films in the 1940s? They're setting the new norm."

            "The movie industry is doing its best to undermine the American family," said Patricia Whitehead, Connecticut mom of two girls. "Hollywood -- we don't care about the sick lives you lead behind closed doors. Just don't bring children into it."

            This brazen attempt at trend-setting comes as national polls show Americans oppose gay marriage, half of us strongly. Support for it was at 47 percent in this year's Washington Post/ABC News poll -- but fully two-thirds favored civil unions, in which gay couples enjoy most rights of marrieds without having to stand under the chuppah.

            It doesn't take a genius to glean the truth: Folks are happy with gays living together. But bringing children into the equation is a deal-breaker.

            Full article here.

            The only question I ask particularly is that if a child can be provided for, cared for, and loved, should the gender be relevant?  The second question, if I'm allowed to ask, what's wrong with presenting a film, even one with an "nontraditional family" (a truthful aspect of American culture, even if some disagree with it) in an utterly honest, and entertaining way.  I disagree with this article in every aspect, but I personally doubt she's seen the film, especially when she calls the presentation of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's characters as "perfect," since neither at all a presented that way-- the comedy as well as the drama comes from their very imperfections, but also the honesty, effort and love that are, or should be the very foundation of family.

            Monday, July 19, 2010


            The nature of dreaming has always been a provocative subject because it's the most personal and internal of things.  And the most universal, we all do it; the delight and horror of what occurs in our sleeping state (whether remembered or not) is one of the few constants everyone can agree upon.  It's also perhaps the one place where we're as honest as ever; sure there's fantasy in dream life, but is there lying?  As such, it's always been an invaluable filmmaking motif, especially since it's been proven that brain activity while watching a movie is similar to that of dreaming.  However, what if we lived in a world where technology was capable of entering our personal safe haven dream world, and extracting the nuggets of information inside.  Or worse yet, what if said technology to plant something that could possibly your life forever?

            Christopher Nolan's fantastical latest, Inception (that little movie that I'm sure few have heard of) ponders the metaphysical theorem.  Tackling an original subject like a mathematical prodigy coupled with his ingeniously grandiose eye of spectacular epic filmmaking, Nolan achieves a film that functions as a dream.  A dream for prickly film nerds (like myself) waiting anxiously for an intelligent, engrossing big Hollywood movie to come along and challenge, provoke and awe.  Made with enormous flair, but with a delicate appreciation for detail, it's the anecdote of dull summer movie season, but also an anecdote of a the contemporary studio system.  Here's a film without 3-D or franchising intentions, a stand alone safe haven for smart, eager, passionate filmgoers willing to focus, and be lulled by something extraordinary.  Here's a filmmaker of big, lofty ambition and style, but also a bit of provocateur.

            And while Inception is difficult in perhaps explanation, it's beguiling as a intellectual mindfuck, rewarding a patient moviegoer with a clear grasp of the why and how, while thrilling the eyes with a grandeur and beauty that big Hollywood likes to promise.  And the trick of it is that even with it's creative and mind-blowing structure it's rooted in it's core by old-school genre.  It's sort of a science fiction heist flick with shades of film noir, a bit of Vertigo-like mysticism, with a dash of James Bond thrown in.  It must have quite a pitch!  And while the film takes place mostly in the deep rooted parts of peoples subconscious where the setting is shifting and sometimes untrustworthy the movie achieves that great lulling, dreamlike feel, while providing a thriller for the thinking man.

            The gist of the story, if that could even apply here, is a man named Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an extractor of dreams.  He enters other peoples dreams in order to steal their invaluable secrets.  On one such job, he enters the mind of Saido (Ken Watanabe), a wealthy businessman who gives Cobb a chance at personal redemption (he's a deeply troubled guy for reasons I don't want to elaborate on) for one last job, perhaps the heist films one given motif.  The job is inception, to put an idea in a rival company's heir named Thomas Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy) to order to topple the competion.  Cobb accepts along with his trusty crew which include the tech wizard Arthur (played by a dapper and sublime Joseph Gordon Levitt), the forger named Eames (Tom Hardy), who has the ability to mimic others in dream world, druggist Yusuf (Dileep Roa), and the newest member Ariadne (Ellen Page) who's function is to build the dream world much like a maze.  Page has a tricky part that first seems cliche and particularly thin, but turns on itself, much like everything else in the film.  For the most part, she's the audience surrogate, the link between us and this other-worldly, slightly nightmarish concept, but as the movie shifts and dreams on, her character cleverly develops a sort of unexpected responsibilty, as well as a waking conscience.  For this, it's fortunate to have an adept actress, in role as un-Juno as it gets.

            As the movie continues, we learn more and more about the troubles of Dom, all of which is alligned with his wife Mal (Marion Cottilard), who shows up unexpectedly, in his subconscious as a sort of classic femme fatale type.  Her motives are unclear, at least until near the end, but it's haunting aspect of Inception that gives it most of its emotional weight, and thankfully while the part of Mal might be a tad underwhelming, it helps to have an actress that's so uniquely expressive to fill in the emotional holes.  While a lot of criticism have noted that Inception feels calculated and slightly cold, I disagree entirely, feeling moved, and briefly over-powered by the emotional authority and maturity of Nolan's work here, more so than anything he's ever done before.  It should be noted also that there's a particularly lovely scene involving Fischer, the films seeming macguffin-- the old Hitchcock description of a plot element that moves the film forward without much interest to the audience; the reason a character gets where he or she gets, whose subject is secondary and irrelevant-- proves quite the opposite in a sequence of wonderful gravity and unexpected gratification.

            And that's part of the wonder of this majestic film, in that in so many ways it functions in the way we expect to, only shift and morph these said conventions in utterly creative and satisfying ways.  Aside of the mind trickery and logic defying bravura, the films effectively works as solid eye candy as well.  The imagery is eerie yet beautiful, built and imagined seamlessly to open the ideas of what a film can be and look like (2001: A Space Odyssey feels like a close influence; I'm not quite comparing Nolan to Kubrick.)  There's a sequence early on in the film where a street in Paris literally (or dreamily) folds onto itself-- it's such an eye popping exquisitely beautiful and frightening scene that opens the movie into a world without boundaries, and limited possibilites.  Yet in great noir sense, there's a also a great sense of danger inside it as well.  The addictiveness of the dreams become too much for some, like Dom, and that swells into the audience I think as well; the movie's greatest effect may be that it feels like a mind-altering substance that you may not want to shake, sublime, but fearful, like a waking nightmare.  The tech elements of art direction, cinematography and costumes all evoke a greater mood, as well as the evocative and eerily haunting score by Hans Zimmer.

            Finally, I'd like to close with the greatest reason to watch (if you haven't already-- a $60 million opening ensures a great many did) Inception is that love it or hate it, it's a substancial moviegoing experience, one in which I don't believe I've ever had in a movie theater before.  And it's a fascinating film to ponder, and argue, and re-watch, as I undoubtedly will many times, in order to come closer to grasping it's mystery, and remain in that blissful mind-altering state.  And while the inevitable internet backlash perhaps has already begun, it's all good, it's all playing a part in a wonderful discussion and dissection of a film worthy of it.  And while thinking about the idea of mind extraction, it might be fascinating to enter Mr. Nolan's mind for a few short moments and plunge the depth and wonder of a spectacularly creative and intelligent filmmaker; it might just be a billion dollar idea hidden inside.  A

            Friday, July 16, 2010

            The Social Network, Trailer 3

            Now we get images-- same dialogue.  I think this just keeps better and better!

            (Please) Try, Just a Little Bit Harder

            I typically don't choose to write about movies that aren't made yet for the obvious reason that one really doesn't know anything what will happen.  Also because so many times, the movies themselves don't even get made in the end.  But after doing light online reading, something came up interesting-- the long-gestating biography film of Janis Joplin.  Movieline does a fine job revisiting various projects and the seemingly endless casting choices, which range from the interesting like Melissa Etheridge. Lily Taylor and Pink, to the maudlin like Renee Zellweger, to the absurb, like Vanessa Hudgens.  The newest member to that list, which according to producers Wyck Godfrey (The Twilight Saga), will get made under the direction of Fernando Mierelles, is Amy Adams.

            I'm not particularly a biopic lover by any stretch of the imagination (I like the eventive ones for sure like Kinsey and I'm Not There, and a few of the reverent ones, like Milk, but the greatest hits of life story typically don't satisfy- tangent), but I'm kind of psyched about this, if it gets made at all.  Mierelles is a superbly capable filmmaker, wonderful at setting mood and tone (as evident in City of God and The Constant Gardener), and as long as his visual palette doesn't go into overload (Blindness), it might just work.  He's never made a bad movie (though many think Blindness is a dud, I think it's a misjudged misfire), and seems very good with actors-- Rachel Weisz did win the Oscar for Gardener.

            The question of Adams is a bit trickier but I think it could work, especially if the she can let go of her adorable cuteness.  Enchanted proved she can carry a tune; I don't know if that translates into rock, but could you imagine Zellweger.  I'll be willing to bet if she pulls it off she'll win the Oscar.  Think about-- pretty girl de-glamed, biopic, singing, drugs, death-- on top of the fact that the Academy already has an affinity for her, as evident by nominations from Junebug and Doubt; if the performance is there, slam dunk!

            I'm getting ahead of myself, but as a fan of Joplin, I hope this works.  The great raspy, throaty singer deserves it.

            Thursday, July 15, 2010


            Here's the first look at Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful for those unlucky enough to have already seen the film when it had it's world premiere at Cannes two months ago.  The film stars Javier Bardem in a role that won him the best actor award at this years festival.  It's notable that this is Inarritu's first film without screenwriter Guillermo Arriago, who collaborated on Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel (Biutiful was co-written by Inarritu and Armando Bo.)  I'm ever hopeful that this will be a success as a non-fan of Babel, intermittent one of 21 Grams and loyalist to Amores Perros.  As of now, there's no US distribution of the film.  This is also his first Spanish language film since Amores Perros.

            Early reviews have been mixed:
            • Sasha Stone, of Awards Daily, called it "beautiful"
            • Lou Lumenick of New York Post, said it was "a soul crushing endurance test at 2 1\2 hours."
            • Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly thinks, "it's the first film of his didn't really work."
            • David Bourgeois of Movieline called it "the best movie of the festival."

            Wednesday, July 14, 2010

            Master of Suspense: Oscar Also Ran

            Mr. Alfred Hitchcock is in all likelihood my favorite film director of all time.  He was the first true auteur that I obsessed and dotted on.  I remember a weekend where AMC did a marathon of his work, and I stayed up almost the entire weekend watching everything, and truth be told, it still ranks as one of the best weekends of my life.  I feel such a strong connection to all of his work (I've seen nearly everything), and continue to obsess, the right word I think, since obsession was such a deeply rooted part of his filmmaking.  And yet it still behooves me that Mr. Hitchcock never once won a competitive Academy Award for his efforts.  And for the most part, despite a respectable showing in his career, the Academy foolishly ignored the best aspects of some of his greatest films.  While I fully acknowledge that Hitchcock was in a very primal sense a popcorn film director, one must also acknowledge that his was of a gourmet variety.

            Some statistics to mull over:
            • Over his career, his films received 62 nominations, out of which garnered 6 statues, or 8.7%.
            • His films received 3 best picture nominations
              • Rebecca (1940) WINNER
              • Suspicion (1941)
              • Spellbound (1945)
            • He himself received 5 best director nominations
              • Rebecca (1940)
              • Lifeboat (1944)
              • Spellbound (1945)
              • Rear Window (1954)
              • Psycho (1960)
                • 0 wins, but the Irving Thalberg recipient in 1967 where he famously just said "Thank you," before exiting the stage
            • His films received 9 acting nominations
              • 3 for leading actor\actress
                • Laurence Olivier (Rebecca) 1940
                • Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) 1940
                • Joan Fontaine (Suspicion) 1941  WINNER
              • 6 for supporting actor\actress
                • Judith Anderson (Rebecca) 1940
                • Albert Basserman (Foreign Correspondent) 1940
                • Michael Chekov (Spellbound) 1945
                • Claude Rains (Notorious) 1946
                • Ethel Barrymore (The Paradine Case) 1947
                • Janet Leigh (Psycho) 1960
            • His films received 7 writing nominations, winning none
              • Rebecca (1940)-- written by Charles Bennet & Joan Harrison
              • Foreign Correspondent (1941)-- written by Robert E. Sherwood & Joan Harrison
              • Shadow of a Doubt (1943)-- written by Gordon McDonell
              • Lifeboat (1944)-- written by John Steinbeck
              • Notorious (1946)-- written by Ben Hecht
              • Rear Window (1954)-- written by John Michael Hayes
              • North by Northwest (1959)-- written by Ernest Lehman
            And while the Oscars were kind enough to remember him-- pretty much all of his major pictures were nominated for something-- usually tech stuff like art direction or score, his greatest Oscar period being in 1940s (unusually since that was he's Hollywood beginning, and arguably the 1950s were even richer), never once was he honored.  The Rebecca triumph, and it is a lovely triumph, was nevertheless back in the day seen as David O. Selznick's win, not Hitchcock's.

            My three top Hitchcock films at the moment are:
            • Rear Window (1954)
            • Vertigo (1958)
            • Strangers on a Train (1951)
            Another sad omission, on which is universally dumbfounded upon, the lack of respect for the acting in his films.  Sure a few were nominated, Joan Fontaine even won, but where's Anthony Perkins' chilling Norman Bates from Psycho, that sweet and dangerous performance just as unsettling fifty years later.  Or Robert Walker's Bruno from Strangers on a Train, a soulful and sad sociopath, one of the finest villains ever put on screen.   Cary Grant, all suave and iconic in North by Northwest-- sometimes movie stars roles are just as addictive and strong as baity ones.  Kim Novack's haunting variation of Hitchcock blonde in Vertigo, easily the strongest female performance he's every coaxed, or Tippi Hedren's hysteria in Marnie.

            The biggest acting omission occurs with Mr. James Stewart, who used his innate American goodness to support Hitchcock in four worthy films: Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and his two finest (I'd say) in Rear Window and Vertigo.  I know Vertigo was critically reviled when it was too new, but the performance was golden, how could that not be noticed.

            It wasn't just the acting that was taken for granted, but also the other areas of the craft.  For instance, The Birds was rightfully awarded an effects nomination only to lose to Cleopatra, with it's big clunkiness.  Whereas The Birds artfully and frighteningly made for one the strongest and best effects in filmmaking even by today's over the top computerized standards-- it's all seamless, and beautiful.

            It says a lot that Hitchcock's legacy will never die, but the Academy is still greatly in debt to this brilliant artist, and some things will never be okay no matter how time has passed.  I continue to obsess, and document my progress.

            It's Kind of a Funny Story

            The latest film from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, who are on an enviably, if small, streak now coming off Half Nelson and Sugar.  There latest stars Zach Galifianakis, Emma Watson, Lauren Graham, Viola Davis, and newcome Keir Gilchrist (of The United States of Tara.)  It looks like it might be fun, and the most accessible film yet from Fleck and Boden.

            You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!

            This is old news by now, especially in our high-speed world where a pin drops and the other side of the world can here about it in nano-seconds, but as it's official that Edward Norton will not be returning as The Incredible Hulk for the eagerly awaited Avengers film, it's also a disheartening view of modern filmmaking at its ugliest and most unseemly.  I've heard murmurs online that Joaquin Phoenix is being courted as his replacement-- that might be entertaining is a bizarro universe (wait that's DC Comics, I forget.)  Marvel Studios weighed in on the decision not to re-hire Norton in an inappropriately worded statement:

            We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.

            Basically, Norton is not a team player, but we already kind of knew that.  He's an extremely gifted performer, but his reputation has always preceded him and played him as a difficult, creatively controlling actor.  Surely Marvel Studios was already aware of that.  But what's more unsettling is not only a sort of lack of respect for the abundant fans awaiting The Avengers (the film without a shred of film in the can already has a release date: May 4, 2012), but also it's the latest in the new-Hollywood way of counting their chickens before they've hatched.

            I do feel a bit like a broken record since I've said this soooo many times before, but shouldn't sequels and franchises feel earned and not taken as a given.  That's been the story of the summer so far.  Iron Man 2 spent a great deal of exposition time advertising The Avengers, Robin Hood built up a slow, boring start just to leave everyone hanging for part two, Shrek Forever After and Sex & the City 2 did little but diminish fan love for the originals, The Last Airbender (arguably the worst film of 2010, and Razzie Award hopeful) introduced the best villian thirty seconds before it was over.  Let's all collectively calm down and take a deep breath, and ponder on the notion that watching a film should be its own reward, and that continuations to stories should be respected and revered as only possibilities after the general public has seen and appreciated something.  And shouldn't all films, even big budget "fun movies" also aspire to some sort of art (silly can be artful too!) not just an expensive commercial.  Movies cost a lot to make, but also cost a lot to see-- Hollywood needs to remember this and not take it's audience for granted, even if in the case of The Avengers, where there's a huge built in one.

            What's happened, it didn't always seen this hopeless in the land of large scale filmmaking.  Well it always kind of did, but the fruits of these labors seemed to do a better job of shielding the bloodbaths.  I personally blame two hugely successful franchises, one brilliant and one shoddy.  The first one is The Lord of the Rings, which director Peter Jackson shot concurrently in a bold, risky experiment that netted three of the most successful motion pictures in history, and at long last became the most respected fantasy, "fun" effects movie ever.  That was a risk that was rightfully rewarded based on the quality and scope.  But I think it's important to know that it was a risk, and also an anomaly-- what if the first film had sucked, and tanked awfully-- in less skilled and protective hands (like the Jackson who made The Lovely Bones), it surely would have.

            The second culprit was The Matrix, I believe.  The first film was a surprise, and an original.  While I'm not really a fan, I believe there was something there, and something unique.  It caught an audience that adored it, and therefore had earned a sequel, but that's where the problems began.  The first film works so well because it was sculpted as a stand alone film, there was never an intention or intimation of a franchise in the making, and unfortunately the second two films (shot concurrently) felt tacked on and like a slap in the face.  At the time it came out, I thought The Matrix Reloaded was the a beautiful piece of crap-- the effects were incredible, but the story became facile and ultimately pointless.  The third film made the entire series feel like a bad drug trip; I felt the need for rehabilitation quickly.

            But both those films changed the idea of how to make movies in the 21st century for the bad I believe.  Just because Peter Jackson accomplished something golden, and The Matrix had awesome effects shots doesn't mean that it works for everything.  Sequels should be earned, not expected, and the shortcomings of Iron Man 2, as well as the Norton snub make me think that first off, The Avengers isn't necessarily going to be pulled off, at least not without a pre-production blood bath (and heaven forbid, possibly a delay from it's release date), and may like everything before be a cheat.  Are these films just going to coast along until the third part conclusion.  I know that sounds cynical, but is not also true.

            Tuesday, July 13, 2010

            Cinema's most pivotal gay sex scenes

            In "honor" of The Kids Are All Right, Salon notes nine pivotal gay sex scenes that paved the road for respected, beautiful actress Annette Bening and Julianne Moore to fool around at will.  The list consists of:

            • The Beautiful Launderette
            • Personal Best
            • The Rocky Horror Picture Show
            • Brokeback Mountain
            • Bound
            • Cruising
            • Mulholland Drive
            • Threesome
            • Wild Things
            Okay, sure how about film like Making Love, Maurice, Wilde, and Longtime Companion that actually made giant (and brave) strides towards making same sex couplings more accessible to the movie going public.  Half the list here just seems like straight man fantasy (Wild Things, Mulholland Drive), and a bit of straight man homophobia (Cruising is a 1978 William Friedkin film that in nutshell explains that all gay men are mentally disturbed.)  I'll totally grant A Beautiful Launderette, Brokeback Mountain, and even Personal Best a slot however, since each film in it's seperate ways provided an artful and perseptive look at human relationships-- they were powerful stories not merely because they were gay, but truthful.

            Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

            Sad news as Harvey Pekar, and comic author of American Splendor died today at the age of 70.  The Cleveland natives claim to fame was an autobiographical comic of his life which he wrote, and was famously drawn by a number of comics, including R. Crumb.  A chronicle and diary of an ordinary American existence, Pekar became a success, and frequent David Letterman guest, and the inspiration for one of the very films of 2003 in Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's adaptation of American Splendor, which like the comics that inspired used a variety of techniques to tell this singular story or a grumpy, obsessive compulsive file clerk.  Perhaps that's the best preservation of a life lived-- to have an incredible film made about it.  I'd never heard of Pekar before the movie came out, but since, it think fondly about the film, and the touching comics that inspired it.

            For Your Consideration: Mark Ruffalo

            I know it's a long time until the awards season comes back in full throttle, but I think I've already seen one the best performance of the year and pray that a loving, tender, merciful God will remember.  It's courtesy of Mark Ruffalo in Lisa Cholodenko's sublime The Kids Are All Right.  I've already fussed about my awe of the film before, but it's worth reiterating, because it's far and away one the 2010's best, at least so far.  This warm, generously spirited, sexy comedy-drama works on a handful of levels, and exceeds expectations because of the committed cast.  Much has been fawned at them already-- Annette Bening being the one singled out the loudest, but Ruffalo is awesome as donar dad Paul.  This criminally underrated actor, who first got attention in his breakthrough a decade ago in You Can Count on Me, has unfathomably never been nominated before, and that's a crying shame, but it makes perfect sense, as sad as it is to here.  He's such a subtle actor, never one to lay on actorly tics, always infusing his characters with a naturalism, that too often goes unnoticed.  The Academy likes 'em big.  With a decade of enviable performances in many terrific films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Zodiac, You Can Count on Me, The Brothers Bloom, Collateral), it's an honest to god shame that he's never gotten the recognition he deserves.  But there's something perhaps a bit more special about Paul.  Here Ruffalo gets a play up his immense charm and gives one of his freshest, warmest performances yet.  Paul's a bit of a ladies man, and could easily have been seen as a flakey too-smooth operator in lesser hands, a cad, even full of himself.  But Ruffalo nails ever nuance, especially the first half, which delves from one awkard scene to the next.  You need an actor with incredible integrity and charisma for it all to work, and Ruffalo is the perfect fit.  In my own world view, Ruffalo should be on he's third or fourth nomination, but I'll settle for a first, and possible win.  Here's hoping that The Kids Are All Right remedies that come next February.

            Saturday, July 10, 2010

            Eat Pray Love

            Here's hoping Ms. Roberts can add another iconic character to her legendary career.  However, I remain skeptical about this one.

            Friday, July 9, 2010

            The Kids Are All Right

            This film is more than all right.  In fact it's a refreshing, spot-on, wonderfully witty comedy of manners that represents a peak for it's fine cast, as well as writer-director Lisa Cholodenko, whose previous credits include the not very similarly lesbian-themed High Art, and Laurel CanyonThe Kids Are All Right is a rare film that's insightful, intelligent and genuinely crowd-pleasing, without any sort of self-righteous platitudes or preaching.  The laughs, which are plentiful, are earned, as well as deeper emotions.  What may end up being the greater reward is that film, centered around two middle-aged lesbians, is that it never plays like a niche gay arts film, but actually a universal, quite commercial film about a family.  Such as Brokeback Mountain, there's absolutely no politics aboard here, but complicated, interesting, messy human relationships.  This one just happens to center around two married women, their two teenage kids, and sperm donor who made it happen.  It all sounds like a bad high concept sitcom for the Bravo network, but with a top drawer cast, and a generous, intelligent script (co-written by Stuart Blumberg), The Kids Are All Right is the best alternative (so far at least) to very noisy, and mostly unspectacular summer.

            Annette Bening plays Nic, a controlling, type-A doctor who's razor sharp tongue is often quite intimidating.  She's a hard shell to crack, but also an obviously fiercely intelligent, strong woman.  She's the dominate, "man" of the house.  Julianne Moore plays Jules, her wife-- she's more of the fun, laid-back, stay at home wife.  There's a great scene early on where Nic and Jules tell the story of how they met.  Jules had a swollen tongue, and Nic being the doctor she visited comforted her.  Nic says, "you were so pretty,"  Jules says, "you were so smart."  Even though they have a classic Odd Couple dynamic, there's a distinctive chemistry that bonds them.  Together they play one of the most committed, and natural couplings in recent screen history-- and completely non-threatening lesbians to the conservative audience members.  They have two children-- Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Jon Hutcherson)-- which was used by the same sperm donor, courtesy of Paul (Mark Ruffalo.)  When the kids hitch a plan to meet their dad the story and film settles into a fine comedy, with hints of the serious, and a bit of melancholy-- all sublime.

            What Cholodenko captures perfectly is the awkwardness of all the evidents-- the meeting of Paul by the kids, and eventually the parents, and the various interactions.  The film honestly and comically explores all the squirmy proceedings, all of which is performed brilliantly the cast.  Paul is a mellow, easy-going guy, sweet, but perhaps both a bit full of himself and un-sure of himself, which is firmly puts him on more common ground with Jules than Nic, who prefers everything tidy and together.  He becomes attractive to the kids because of his cool demeanor-- he drives a motorcycle, and runs a local-grown eco-friendly organic restaurant-- which is all a little too hippy\flakey for Nic.  Ruffalo is terrific in the role, conveying both easy going charm (he's a bit of ladies man, I'll say no more), but with a bachelor longing for the stability of Nic and Jules.  It's one of his best performances.

            Moore is wonderful is well, filling in the spacey Jules with a charm that this wonderful actor hardly gets to really exhibit, what with her reputation in hardcore dramatics.  She adeptly handles the humor, but is heartfelt as a woman that's unsure of herself, always feeling recessive to Nic.  As for Bening, she has the hardest part; in less gifted hands Nic might be seen as a shrew, a critical nag with a drinking problem (she likes her red wine), but Bening is far too talented for any one-note take on a role, and makes Nic one her greatest concoctions, slowly revealing notes of vulnerability and softness-- in the end she might be considered best in show here, and that's saying a lot.

            The Kids Are All Right doesn't neglect the kids either, and they're pretty swell too, especially Wasikowska.  Playing Joni (named after Mitchell as discussed in one the most memorable scenes), the film also deals with a young woman leaving the nest-- she's headed to college as all this going down.  Previously seen as the lone bright spot in the otherwise abysmal Alice in Wonderland, here we get a refreshing and wonderful look a a young actress, without any CGI crap getting in the way, and she plays the part of a women in discovery of oneself with a clear and lovely precision; she's sometimes angry, but always lovely.  So kids going to college is a theme in the two best movies of the summer, this and Toy Story 3, go figure.
            But what I enjoyed most about this film is the generosity of spirit.  Everyone here is an equal, no one villainized, all carefully and fully drawn out.  I think it's perhaps the finest ensemble comedy since Juno.  And while the film may make some nervous, especially in parts of the country not particularly embracing of gay marriage, there's a wonderful feeling inclusion to this film.  There's a few aspects that might be viewed as transgressive (particularly when Nic and Jules use gay male porn as an aphrodisiac), but ultimately as the title proclaims, the kids are all right, as well as the moms, and the world itself when films this rich come about.  A

            Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

            Joan Rivers has been in the industry for more than forty years, but my only real memory of the queen comedienne is as red carpet fixture.  With her instantly recognizable, yet ever changing face, she wailed on celebrities with a nasty wit with that nasally, unmistakable bark of hers.  She was sometimes funny, sometimes just mean, but still kind of mesmerizing to look at.  To watch the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, she's where's most comfortable-- center stage.  The film opens with a candid shot of that iconic mug, sans make-up, and therefore, subtly gets the whole plastic surgery thing out of way instantly.  And as the film chronicles a year of her life, she is indeed, a piece of work, but still a mesmerizing presence.

            The film starts at a fairly low-point in her career, in a career of many lows, she has club dates at small dive places, the likes of which you would think below her.  She also has a calendar that's very free, a distressing thing for Rivers.  What the film accomplishes most is presenting a woman who's a constant workaholic, desperate to keep doing the only thing she knows how to do, and something she intends to keep doing until the end.  It's surprisingly intimate with it's subject, and Rivers comes off a very human egomaniac.  While she's perhaps the joke to today's climate, she's also aware of it, as evident of the fact that the woman never turns any jobs-- be on a cruise ship, QVC, the Celebrity Apprentice, or a Comedy Central Roast (all of those is in part of the Versailles- royalty themed palate of her luxurious apartment, no doubt; she takes the Queen of Comedy mantra to heart.)

            But what is revelatory, perhaps moreso to younger audiences like myself who were unable to experience the Joan Rivers glory days of groundbreaking comedienne, and Johnny Carson regular, is that thanks to archival clips we get a see a fresher (and also a naturally prettier) woman breaking down walls of male-dominated comedy.  And she's pretty funny.  Rivers is just a dirty and edgy as the dudes, telling jokes about sex and abortion light years before the American public was ready (are we even ready now?), and through line to the successes of people like Kathy Griffin, her bitchy comic heir.  That's what's most refreshing about this documentary, directed by Rickie Stern and Ruth Stunberg, the history.

            Along with that history comes pain-- like the suicide of her husband Edgar, and the snubbing of Carson when Rivers was offered her talk show.  Rivers herself handles it like a seasoned professional, playing ribbing and snapping about everything (she's always hardest on herself), yet opens the door slightly to reveal a true vulnerable side, masked by her sharp tongue.  The documentary itself is hardly groundbreaking, but the subject is always "on," and fascinating.  B+

            Thursday, July 8, 2010

            The Social Network, Trailer 2

            James want movie NOW!

            Emmy Award Nominations

            I don't write about TV often, because I don't watch that much of it anymore.  Truth be told it was my first love before I got all movie geeked.  I wasted most of my childhood in front of that set, and don't regret it a bit.  Nowadays the only shows I watch with any attachment are 30 Rock, Glee and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  For nostalgia I'll check out The Simpsons (you try being as great twenty years in, I say to anyone who mocks the quality of newer episodes!), but that's kind of it.  I've tried getting into stuff like True Blood, Mad Men and Dexter, but it never quite settled, or perhaps I didn't give enough attention.  As for Lost, I had to quit that show three years ago-- it became to consuming. 

            I also have a weird detachment for the Emmys (even though I love awards stuff), probably because they're the silliest-- I can't quite validate an organization that nominates Ryan Seachrest (again up for Best Reality Show host-- another sign of silliness!)  Also, there's too many categories to follow, and they can be awfully redundant.  Just saying.  Here's the nominees:

            • Breaking Bad
            • Dexter
            • The Good Wife
            • Lost
            • Mad Men
            • True Blood
            The sentimental vote is with Lost, right?

            • 30 Rock
            • Curb Your Enthusiasm 
            • Glee
            • Modern Family
            • Nurse Jackie
            • The Office
            I like everything except The Office, even though I've only seen a couple episodes of Nurse Jackie, but I'm rooting for Glee, because even though the show is wildly uneven (I admit that a fair share of the criticism is apt), it's still buoyant and wildly addictive.  30 Rock has won the last three years in a row, and deserves a rest-- still love that show though.

            BEST ACTOR (Drama)
            • Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)
            • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
            • Matthew Fox (Lost)
            • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
            • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
            • Hugh Laurie (House)
            BEST ACTRESS (Drama)
            • Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights)
            • Glenn Close (Damages)
            • Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU)
            • January Jones (Mad Men)
            • Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
            BEST ACTOR (Comedy)
            • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
            • Steve Carell (The Office)
            • Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
            • Matthew Morrison (Glee)
            • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
            • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
            BEST ACTRESS (Comedy)
            • Toni Collette (The United States of Tara)
            • Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
            • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
            • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The Old Adventures of New Christine)
            • Lea Michele (Glee)
            • Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation)
            Am I the only one to think this is a ridiculously strong category-- why can't the Oscars be this high talent friendly with Best Actress!

            BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (Drama)
            • Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age)
            • Michael Emerson (Lost)
            • Terry O'Quinn (Lost)
            • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
            • Martin Short (Damages)
            • John Slattery (Mad Men)
            • Christine Baranski (The Good Wife)
            • Rose Byrne (Damages)
            • Sharon Gless (Burn Notice)
            • Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
            • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
            • Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)
            BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (Comedy)
            • Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
            • Chris Colfer (Glee)
            • Jon Cryer (Two & a Half Men)
            • Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family)
            • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
            • Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
            How does Two & a Half Men keep getting nominated for stuff year end and year out-- does no one know (the Academy, the American public) that show sucks.

            BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Comedy)
            • Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
            • Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
            • Jane Lynch (Glee)
            • Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
            • Holland Taylor (Two & a Half Men)
            • Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)
            I adore Jane Krakowski-- but all must concede that it's Jane Lynch's world right now, correct?

            BEST TV MOVIE
            • Endgame
            • Georgia O'Keeffe
            • Moonshot
            • The Special Relationship
            • Temple Grandin
            • You Don't Know Jack
            BEST MINI-SERIES
            • The Pacific
            • Return to Cranford
            Gee, wonder what will take the prize?

            BEST ACTOR (Movie)
            • Jeff Bridges (Jon Katz)
            • Ian McKellen (The Prisoner)
            • Al Pacino (You Don't Know Jack)
            • Dennis Quaid (The Special Relationship)
            • Michael Sheen (The Special Relationship)
            All movie stars-- interesting!

            BEST ACTRESS (Movie)
            • Joan Allen (Georgia O'Keeffe)
            • Claire Danes (Temple Grandin)
            • Hope Davis (The Special Relationship)
            • Judi Dench (Return to Cranford)
            • Maggie Smith (Capturing Mary)
            Hey there-- I'm noticing a trend!

            • The Amazing Race
            • American Idol
            • Dancing with the Stars
            • Project Runway
            • Top Chef
            • The Colbert Report
            • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
            • Real Time with Bill Maher
            • Saturday Night Live
            • The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
            Take that NBC!

            • Alien Earths
            • Disney Prep & Landing
            • The Ricky Gervais Show
            • The Simpsons
            • South Park
            and just for fun, because I think these nominations of fairly silly:

            GUEST ACTOR (Drama)
            • Dylan Baker (The Good Wife)
            • Alan Cumming (The Good Wife)
            • Ted Danson (Damages)
            • Gregory Itzin (24)
            • John Lithgow (Dexter)
            • Robert Morse (Mad Men)
            GUEST ACTRESS (Drama)
            • Ann-Margret (Law & Order: SVU)
            • Shirley Jones (The Clearer)
            • Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost)
            • Mary Kay Place (Big Love)
            • Sissy Spacek (Big Love)
            • Lily Tomlin (Damages)
            GUEST ACTOR (Comedy)
            • Will Arnett (30 Rock)
            • Jon Hamm (30 Rock)
            • Neil Patrick Harris (Glee)
            • Mike O'Malley (Glee)
            • Eli Wallach (Nurse Jackie)
            • Fred Willard (Modern Family)
            This one better go to either O'Malley or Harris-- but shouldn't O'Malley really be in Supporting Actor-- his role as Kurt's dad has actually kind of had a nice multi-episode arc to it.

            GUEST ACTRESS (Comedy)
            • Christine Baranski (The Big Bang Theory)
            • Kristen Chenoweth (Glee)
            • Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live)
            • Kathryn Joosten (Desperate Housewives)
            • Jane Lynch (Two & a Half Men)
            • Betty White (Saturday Night Live)
            I'll bet my life Betty White wins it!

            Also-- Anne Hathaway today became an Emmy nominee for a vocal performance for an epsiode of The Simpsons-- pretty cool, huh?

            Wednesday, July 7, 2010

            The Last Airbender

            What can one say about M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender that hasn't already been said, as evident by it pathetic 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Well, for one thing, it's ghastly the film made nearly $70 million over the Fourth of July weekend, no doubt inflated by it's 3-D surcharges.  That the story, an adaptation of the popular cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is an utter dud-- not just disappointing, but boring, full of needless exposition and desperate for franchising, therefore embodying the very worst of contemporary big-budget Hollywood films.  What else-- oh the acting is fairly atrocious; with all the protest and negative criticism regarding the casting of white actors in non-white roles, it seems almost a service to those outraged that the film is an utter flop and the lily white stars are quite disposable.  And for a film that reportedly cost $150 million to make, why does it look so crappy?  It's not just the last-minute 3-D hack job that's tacky, it's the whole production.  When I took those silly glasses off, all I saw was cheap, phony CG effects, and when I put them back on it was just the same crappy effects darkened.

            I'm quite relieved that I didn't pay for this film, but I felt nothing but sympathy for those who had, because how could one not feel ripped off by this joyless, excruciating exercise.  The point is after the fiascoes of The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening, how on earth is Shyamalan willing to get a major studio (in this case Paramount) to shell out buckets of money on a big summer tentpole release?  How after a track record of every picture of his being exponentially worse than  it's predecessors is this man still welcomed to the club.  It gets richer, The Last Airbender is his biggest film to date in scale and budget, it's really his first attempt at working with effects and yet Paramount Pictures is willing to dump a potentially lucrative franchise into this man's arms.  I don't get that logic-- if a studio wanted to waste hundreds of millions of dollars, I'll glad take some of it off their hands.

            And yet, perhaps Paramount isn't solely to blame.  I personally almost hate to admit this, but I've seen of Shyamalan's films (even the silly indie Wide Awake he made shortly before The Sixth Sense catapulted him into this entity that would eventually turn evil.)  And the truth of the matter is that The Last Airbender is the first film he's ever made without any redeeming qualities-- it's a disaster on nearly every level; one hopes that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is revived just to make something entertaining here.  For the thing is that before I believed Mr. Shyamalan, thoroughout all the wrong-headed choices, and reported ego issues, had bonafide talent as a filmmaker (not as a writer), but there's a style to him that has kept even his worst films slightly afloat because he seemed a controlled filmmaker of mood and pacing.  Even in the dreadful The Happening, visually the films looks eerie and kinda cool in certain shots-- the movie is awful is nearly ever other way, but there was something small to hold onto, something to grasp that there might be a shred of unwasted potential in Shyamalan.

            But in Airbender, there's nothing-- crappy looking fakery, a bloated self-serious story, small and very mannered performances, and zero sense of pace, mood or control.  The story centers around a boy named Ang, who is the Avatar, or the One, or whatever, he's a little boy with great power and responsibility.  He has to save the world, or second rate middle-earth replica of the world by keeping the peace between the fire and water regions, or whatever.  The fire people are evil, and there's been a great war for a century, but the little boy must save all.  I hear the cartoon is actually fairly decent, but one wouldn't easily get the sense from the film, with its neediness to simplify every aspect and explain everything at least four times.  Seriously there was about six points in the movie where I thought, "I know, move on," but the movie didn't listen.

            Of course thankfully the movie does invite the opportunity for a sequel.  I feel like a broken record, but Hollywood, when one is watching a movie and throwing a zillion dollars at it, perhaps it would be in the best interest of all involved to worry about said single movie and focus on franchises later.  For the money this film inexplicably made, a question lingers-- does anyone like it?  I watched this film with friends of mine, who love this kind of stuff (I admittedly don't), and they didn't like it either-- something to mull over, before part two is put into production.

            One more note-- if one does desire two hours of exterminating your brain cells, don't bother with seeing it in 3-D.  The only luzury is the three to five dollars more the studio will profit.  I noticed two sequences in 3-D in my experience-- the Paramount logo (easily the best part of the movie), and the end credits.  Everything else looked flat and dark and sad.  I have nothing against artists toying around with the medium, but let's keep it at that from now on....please.  F
            Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...