Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dream Come True? Oh, Thanks, Movie Gods

I don't do a good job of reporting movie news here, mostly because I just don't feel like it. But some things just have to be commented upon.

I am a Floridian, born and bred, and I grew up just north of Fort Lauderdale. My parents and grandparents are big readers, especially of mysteries and thrillers. John D. MacDonald was a household name. I can tell you without looking it up that Travis McGee docks his boat, the Busted Flush, at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale. I remember when the city designated an actual Slip F-18 in honor of MacDonald and his creation. I've read and re-read Carl Hiaasen's tribute that appears as a preface in the reprinted McGee series. And while I prefer the stand-alones like A Key to the Suite and The Deceivers, you really can't love MacDonald without loving McGee, too. It's just not possible.

Fortunately, we're not the only people who do.

If my eyes do not deceive me, Travis McGee may finally be getting his due on the Big Screen. I know: there was already an adaptation of Darker Than Amber starring Rod Taylor, followed by Sam Elliott in the TV movie Travis McGee. But this time, they're starting things off right, which is to begin at the beginning: The Deep Blue Good-by.

If my memory of the novel is correct, it involves a desperate girl, her abusive boyfriend, and a blue marble that Trav must get back. This is what he does: people come to him to salvage something of theirs, he takes a cut of what it's worth, and continues philosophizing on a changing Florida landscape. And, like James Bond, there's a girl for every novel, but Trav doesn't always sleep with them. They're damaged goods, he's damaged goods, and MacDonald was masterful at creating sad, sorry people who try to maintain their last bit of dignity.

Oh, and who is to play Travis McGee? Leonardo DiCaprio! We're talking three-time Oscar nominee, Hollmann Award nominated, model-dating Leo! He can do broody; let's just hope we can believe him sans facial hair -- Trav was clean-shaven, but Leo kind of looks baby-faced without something there.

This is so exciting! It's time for a re-reading, methinks.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Smackdown Sunday!

If you haven't already, check out StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown of 1993, in which the hostess and I disagree on Winona Ryder and Rosie Perez, I defend my subjectivity, and an all-around good time is had by all.

These are all always fun to read and reflect upon, and I often find myself reading years in which I've seen none of the films, just to savor the brilliance of the writing. It's a pretty solid panel, and I think the range of hearts (I rated four where many did not) shows what an interesting year it was for the category -- though, as Alex in Movieland points out, not a particularly strong one.

So...did my beloved Winona Ryder win? Did Piano fans re-reward Anna Paquin? Or was it a surprise attack from under-used Holly Hunter? Seriously, don't keep reading this. Go over to StinkyLulu's RIGHT NOW.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All?

I had the weirdest dream the other night. We were at a film school to-do held at someone's house, and I was hanging out on the front porch with some classmates, Meryl Streep, and Jessica Lange. La Streep was in her Julia Child costume, while Lange was played by Harriet Walter.

In this alternate universe, Lange had just won the EMMY, making her a member of the triple-crowners. She and Meryl were both honored with such a title, and I asked them how it felt. Lange rolled her eyes, and Streep sighed.

"It really is meaningless. I hate that whole idea. The Oscar movie. I never want to do an Oscar movie. So many people just write Oscar scenes, and all I want is a good story. That's the only way to succeed."

Thanks Meryl! And thanks to Lange/Harriet Walter for sticking around.

Supporting Actress Smackdown '93: The Age of Innocence

This Sunday, I am taking part for a third time in the Supporting Actress Smackdown hosted by StinkyLulu. Five movies will be screened, with the Oscar-nominated supporting actress performances reviewed and rated. The year is 1993.


I always think I'm going to love this movie. After all, all the ingredients are there: actors I love, a director I respect and admire, a period piece romance. Hell, even though I've not read the source novel, it was written by the author of Ethan Frome, one my favorite books ever. How could this go wrong?

Alas, the trouble here is the trouble with Martin Scorsese's other New York period drama, Gangs of New York. So much is spent on the visuals, the production values, the costumerie, the insistence on epic scope, that in the end, it is too in love with what it's critiquing to satirize it properly. Ah, yes, the intentions are noble, bringing the novel to life while still maintaining the lush language within. But at what cost? Is it so necessary to have a narrator read passages from the book when all it does is distract? If it is to provide context or commentary, then I'm sorry, but you have failed as a filmmaker. If you cannot illustrate your thesis without Joanne Woodward's gently ironic voice describing a fucking ballroom, back to the drawing-board.

The film is also a victim of tedium. At two hours and nineteen minutes, it feels like a three-hour epic. It. Just. Drags. On. And no one is doing anything interesting. Daniel Day-Lewis, whose praises I just sang in the previous post, bores me here, and feels miscast. Michelle Pfeiffer seems distant, so that I don't really "get" the love story. And they're trying, certainly, but they just aren't doing it for me.

Have I mentioned before how much I want to strangle Thelma Schoonmaker with the film negative? She is so rarely satisfying. Here, she dissolves and dissolves and dissolves, and I don't know to what end or for what purpose. I just see a bunch of transitions that do little more than showcase the production values. I really don't need this AND Joanne Woodward to get a sense of the materialism of these people, of this time, of this place. I'm not an idiot. Idiots don't see movies like The Age of Innocence, so why worry about them?

Well, as you can probably guess by my declaring Amy Adams the Best Supporting Actress of 2008, I have a soft spot for incredible actressing in films that just miss the mark (Fortunately, when Doubt misses the mark, it becomes high camp and therefore a must-buy). And so the twice I have seen The Age of Innocence, I am consistently blown away by one of the few actors in the film not horrifyingly miscast.

Winona Ryder may have been my first celebrity crush, but I assure you that this does not bias me in the least. I mean hey, I'm not exactly prepared to heap acting honors on Jennifer Love Hewitt, and I am determined to hit that. The truth is, Winona Ryder is...perfect. In this movie, I mean. As Newland Archer's fiancee/wife, May Welland, she is at risk of suffering from Melanie Hamilton syndrome: too sweet and charming and kind to not throttle violently. Ryder avoids this deftly by giving us an intelligent young woman who plays the game of Society better than anyone in the room, taking advantage of the "pretty little head" stereotype to work through her difficulties with Newland.

And when I say "work through", I mean she is clever in her manipulations. Always playing the innocent, May uses Newland's untainted image of her to get him to remain faithful to her.

There is a scene where Newland springs a trip to Washington on May. He gives this excuse about patent papers, and she waves it away, declaring it to be too complicated for her. Then she suggests that, while in town, he drop in on her cousin, the woman he happens to secretly desire. And for the first time, she looks at him, and smiles innocently - but not with her eyes. It is a challenge, masterfully played, a look that says, "I know. And I trust you. Can you handle that?" Solid work.

I miss Winona. Someone needs to get her into another Oscar picture soon. I mean, not a conscious awards target like The Age of Idiots, but...you know...something. Star Trek was a step in the right direction. Maybe Woody Allen could use her again. Or Quentin Tarantino. I'm just spit-balling.

The gist is, Winona Ryder is probably the best thing about the movie, followed by Miriam Margolyes, then the costumes. She is sweet and manipulative, but not in a cruel way. The fact that May knows the whole time and says nothing...that's love, baby. And with Winona, we believe every second of it.

The Film: **
The Supporting Actress: *****

Supporting Actress Smackdown '93: In the Name of the Father

This Sunday, I am taking part for a third time in the Supporting Actress Smackdown hosted by StinkyLulu. Five movies will be screened, with the Oscar-nominated supporting actress performances reviewed and rated. The year is 1993.


After a second viewing, I'll stick with my first impression: although a little long, it's a great movie. I am not resistant to the incredible force that is Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays wrongly accused prisoner Gerry Conlon with violent emotion. It's a great role that Day-Lewis sinks his teeth into, sometimes irritating, sometimes heroic. He's great at characters that are both frustrating and sympathetic. Hell, if he can make me love the amoral villains of There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York, his work as Gerry Conlon seems almost child's play. But please, don't be fooled into thinking it is. It's goose-pimply.

If there is a flaw with the film, honestly, it's in its portrayal of the prison. We are told that Gerry and his father Guiseppe (Pete Postlethwaite, channeling everyone's father brilliantly) are with "the worst of the worst", yet except for a sadistic yet charming IRA leader, everyone seems pretty chill, throwing snowballs and listening to Bob Marley. I'm always concerned when films portray prisoners as no more menacing than the school bully that you wound up befriending come high school. It sends the wrong message, and while I know that this a story of a corrupt legal system...come on. Not everyone in that prison is an innocent man.

Truth be told, I think I might have liked this movie more if it focused on the trial more than the prison aspect. In both trial sequences, I found myself more interested and invested than anywhere else in the film. I guess that's just personal preference as far as genre goes.

The supporting actress here is Emma Thompson, fresh off her Best Actress win for Howard End. Thompson is given a character who could very well be a cipher. She's the lawyer working with Guiseppe for an appeal, who must convince the angry Gerry to have faith and cooperate, and who, of course, gives a rousing speech in the climactic courtroom scene. Such a role is fairly easy to fuck up, as it could easily become too preachy or too motherly or too lawyer-y.

Thompson, instead, goes with bad-ass. She can keep her cool, but when her emotions get her, they go whole hog. Oh, but she's not prone to outbursts. No, no, Thompson, as Gareth Peirce, plays it cool with the big boys, rarely letting her guard down. Consider her first scene with Gerry, where she sits coolly, allowing him to finish his "hardened prisoner" routine. Awesome, awesome stuff. And I love how there is no "build" to her yelling in court, but an outburst of disgust and incredulity.

She may have the least amount of screen time of the three leads, but there is so much Thompson has to pack into her character, and she does it. The actress is always a treat to watch, and it is no different here than in Love Actually. Great work, as always.

The Film: ***
The Supporting Actress: ****

Friday, September 25, 2009

Supporting Actress Smackdown '93: The Firm

This Sunday, I am taking part for a third time in the Supporting Actress Smackdown hosted by StinkyLulu. Five movies will be screened, with the Oscar-nominated supporting actress performances reviewed and rated. The year is 1993.


It's hard to take this movie completely seriously after seeing The Informant!. Tom Cruise plays a young lawyer who joins a firm with a dark secret...one they are willing to kill for! It's one of those movies where you know the DVD summary has exclamation points after every sentence. Because it's a THRILLER full of SUSPENSE and ACTION!

Well, hell! I had fun! What I've learned from watching John Grisham movies (because I've never read his books) is that they operate on the ridiculous, on high fives and America and sexy lawyers! And I can totally roll with that. Besides, my girlfriend's future brother-in-law is in law school and looks like Tom Cruise, so I feel like I'm not supporting him if I don't give the film my approval.

I mean, come on. Gene Hackman and Hal Holbrook and Wilford Brimley are there to give the class act. Tom Cruise and David Strathairn arrive for sex appeal. Gary Busey is terrifying. And, of course, we have our strong, brilliant women: Jeanne Tripplehorn, who, playing Cruise's wife, has to recite aggressively heavy-handed lines imaginable; and Oscar-nominated Holly Hunter.

Holly Hunter has a teeny tiny role as the Tennessee gal who helps Cruise's character out with taking down the Firm. The role itself isn't much, but she's a hoot. With her hot-pink press-ons, rainbow of wigs, and DSL, Hunter is as sexy as she is great to watch. And yeah, her proclivity for oral sex saves her life, and sure, her outfits are all about titties, titties, titties (and legs, too), but she's so much more than just the dumb sexy girl. For one thing, the character helps bring down a group of powerful, wealthy men, and it's to Hunter's credit that we never doubt her street smarts. From early on, she lets on that she's got as much brains as she does boobs. Let's not forget: she approaches Cruise, and her terrified determination to see justice done is fascinating: shaky hands, set jaw. Hell yeah.

I can't explain it, I'm sorry. I see Fearless, I think "OK". I see The Piano, I think "OK". I see delightful trash like The Firm, I think "YES"! That's the way I roll. As Julia Child says, "Never apologize."

The Film: ***
The Supporting Actress: ****

Supporting Actress Smackdown '93: The Piano

This Sunday, I am taking part for a third time in the Supporting Actress Smackdown hosted by StinkyLulu. Five movies will be screened, with the Oscar-nominated supporting actress performances reviewed and rated. The year is 1993.


I don't know what to say about The Piano. It was beautiful and unlike anything I'd ever seen, I know that much. I know this was some of the best acting I've seen in a film. I also know, however, that I probably was not in thr right frame of mind when watching it. I was on a Bright Star high, and it was folly of me to approach a new Campion so immediately.

I think what I find so bizarre is the relationship between George (Harvey Keitel) and Ada (Holly Hunter). It's supposed to be a love story, isn't it? And yet I see what George does as manipulative and disgusting. Oh, yes, it's very neat to open the mute woman to carnal pleasures...but presumably she would already know what that's like, right? She has a daughter, after all. Is it George's approach? I don't understand what I'm supposed to be feeling, because I feel like "sketchy" isn't what Campion was going for.

Anna Paquin won the Oscar for her performance in this film. She is quite good, certainly. It is nice to see a mostly unmannered performance from a young girl. Paquin takes the girl from devoted child to Judas, and it is believably played. Because the girl is jealous of George, right? Or is it that she's just a mischievous, devilish child? Paquin plays her as the kind of girl who starts things out of boredom, cunning and well aware of what kind of damage she'll be doing. Perhaps my problem is with the script: I just don't believe she would betray her mother the way she does. Certainly it would help if they built on the relationship between her and her stepfather...but alas, no.

Damn, I think I'm going to have to see this movie again. There's a lot I really didn't understand, and I don't know if it's my memory or if Jane Campion just didn't provide simple answers. And that's cool to keep things complicated and ambiguous, but I also don't like feeling like things happen just for the sake of happening. I know a lot of people love the film, but I don't understand the attraction between George and Ada, I don't understand why the daughter can be so evil; the only person I can really relate to and understand is Sam Neill as Ada's husband. So...at least Campion didn't turn the role into the stock Jealous, Controlling Husband.

Man, I wanted to like this more.

The Film: ***
The Supporting Actress: ***

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bright Star

I liked Bright Star a lot. It wasn't just the immense high one gets from going to an exclusive screening arranged through a teacher's connection with the film's distributor. No, this was a genuine rush of awe, and though I was not brought to tears, I was deeply moved.

Jane Campion's film chronicles the romance between poet John Keats and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne. As this is Campion, the story is told through Fanny's point-of-view -- a wise decision, for who among us can possibly identify with a poet as revered as Keats? The screenplay is inspired by Andrew Motion's definitive biography Keats, as well as letters written between Fanny and Keats. Indeed, much of the dialogue is lifted directly from these letters, and it is a testament to the talents of Campion and her cast that such poetic and flowery language can flow so naturally and realistically.

We've all gone through that Great First Love. When you're young, it feels like life or death, and you become melodramatic in your protestations that your life will be over without your true love by your side. Oh, and there is plenty of that to go around in Bright Star, as John and Fanny both risk their health (physical and mental) to pursue their affections. And while there are times when one can look at these two and think, "Dear God, people, grow up," more often than not we are touched by their steadfastness.

And when they finally share their first kiss...the thrill! Never has a film so clothed been so erotic. The mere interlacing of fingers sends the pulse racing. Yes, I am serious. Campion does an expert job of bringing you into the time and place, so that we 21st-century audience members are just as scandalized and aroused by these simple gestures as the characters.

I don't mean to give Campion all the credit. Certainly, the actors are doing their part to make people we identify with. Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw are the leads. For Your Consideration: These two. Cornish has to balance this intelligent, independent woman with the devoted, doting lover, and my God! She does it! Fanny is brilliant and strong, and though she is quick to take offense and forward in her opinions, yet she is likable. Whishaw, I think, turns in one of the best performances I've seen so far. Keats's poetry flows naturally from him. The chemistry he shares with Cornish is genuine, I swear. You forget for two hours that she's with Ryan Phillippe and he's...I don't know, but it seems like someone should have snatched him up by now, right?

The always reliable Paul Schneider, now with Scottish accent, has quite a turn as John's best friend, fellow poet Charles Armitage Brown. Kerry Fox plays Fanny's mother, and though she does not say or do much, she does not need to; it is a brilliant performance.

A quiet, beautiful film, it will be interesting to see how Bright Star fares in expansion. It won't do HUGE business, I think, but fans of costume dramas should attend in droves. That, by the way, is more of a suggestion than a prediction. Fans: SEE THIS MOVIE. No matter what the public or critics make of it, however, I shall love Bright Star, and I look forward to adding it to my DVD/Blu-Ray collection. Someday.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Supporting Actress Smackdown '93: Fearless

This Sunday, I am taking part for a third time in the Supporting Actress Smackdown hosted by StinkyLulu. Five movies will be screened, with the Oscar-nominated supporting actress performances reviewed and rated. The year is 1993.


So, Max Klein (Jeff Bridges) survives a plane crash and suddenly fears nothing. Having saved twenty fellow passengers, he is looked at as somewhat of a hero. And, indeed, he himself appears to be convinced of his own divinity, especially since he is the only one who can reach out to grieving mother Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez). Despite all the good he does other people, however, Max also alienates himself from his family, makes reckless decisions, and generally freaks a lot of people the hell out.

As a whole, I like the movie. It's almost two hours, which I felt was a little long, but Bridges carries the movie throughout. I mean, when he's onscreen. The problem: you get so caught up in his character, whole scenes without him become jarring. This was especially a problem in a scene wherein a PTSD specialist (John Turturro) has a session with the survivors of the plane crash. I understand the need to build on where Perez's character is mentally and emotionally, but the scene goes on for a long time and just feels out of place. To me, anyway.

There are weird elements like that scene throughout Fearless. I want a movie about how Bridges is effected by the crash, about the relationship between him and his wife (Isabella Rossellini), about him and Perez reaching out to each other. I get that most of the time, fortunately. But there is also a caricature of a lawyer, expertly played by Tom Hulce, but an awkward fit for the movie. Benicio Del Toro (young, mustachioed Benicio Del Toro) plays Perez's husband, who uses the death of his baby son as a way to get more money out of the insurance company. And I understand these people exist in real life, but they really felt too simple for a movie like this. Really, Fearless is too good a film to offer underdeveloped characters.

Then there's Rosie Perez as Carla. It's not that Perez is bad in this. She's not even just okay. She's really quite good here, and I generally like her to begin with. But there's something missing. She goes from grieving mother to Max Klein's best friend. There is a weird moment of tenderness between them that she rebukes, and there is a moment where she breaks down in his car about her baby. There's also a sequence where she plays with him in a toy store.

The difficulty with judging a performance like this is that I've never been through anything traumatic, nor do I have much experience with people who have, so maybe it's just my ignorance saying this. But here it goes: it isn't organic. Perez and director Peter Weir have not found that logical arc that brings Carla from Point A to Point B. Perez gets each scene individually, but as a whole, I don't feel Carla Rodrigo consistently enough.

Who should've gotten the nom? Isabella Rossellini as worried wifey Laura. Typical character for the category, sure, but I could not take my eyes off her whenever she was in the room.

The Film: ***
The Supporting Actress: **

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Catch-Up: Part One

How long has it been since I actually reviewed something? It feels like forever. Less talky, more review-y:


Oh, heavens. What to say about Adam, the tale of a young man with Asperger's who falls in love with his neighbor? Well, Hugh Dancy gives a pretty good performance in the title role, and Rose Byrne isn't terrible when she's acting without words. Amy Irving and Frankie Faison are pretty good. Overall, though, the movie is pretty awful. It doesn't want to be a rom-com with Asperger's as a device. Grand. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and surely there is nothing more agonizing this year than watching Adam.

Peter Gallagher's performance is a step above community theater. Adam is frequently lit like a serial killer stalking his prey, which is just unsettling. The songs are irritatingly on the nose, describing the action of the story in a clunky, literal way. How did they actually find songs to match exactly what everyone in the audience should be thinking and feeling? It's almost a coup! God, and some of the lines are horrendous. Just horrendous. "Loving, my precious girl, is what matters most." And holy crapping crap, they can't even get the lead female's name right. Gallagher calls her Bethany, loudly and clearly, in one scene; later, it is revealed her name is Elizabeth. WHICH IS IT, MOVIE? Writer-director Max Mayer has just joined The List -- the list of people to take by the shoulders and shake violently.


Interesting, intelligent sci-fi centering around the attempted relocation of prawn-like extraterrestrials in South Africa and the effects thereof. I think it only takes place over the course of three days (I think), and the pacing on this thing is impeccable. Yes, it is edge of your seat excitement at its best. It's best to go into the film with as little knowledge as possible. Certainly, I went in almost blind and wound up falling for it. I just want to point out three things: (1) Sharlto Copley gives a fantastic performance, (2) the visual effects are outstanding, far more convincing than VFX on more expensive productions, and (3) director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp has proven himself a force to be reckoned with.


An interesting piece starring Hollmann Award nominee Tilda Swinton (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). She's an alcoholic who kidnaps a boy at the urging of his delusional mother. Julia hopes to benefit financially from this, but her lack of skills in this department, plus her need to drink, drink, drink, take the film down various roads that eventually lead to Mexico. Through it all, Swinton is sublime, with a perfect American accent, and an understanding of the ego and folly that is the drunk. It's a top-notch performance in a bizarre little film.

Some of the twists and turns of the screenplay seem to serve mainly as a way to keep the movie going for another ten or fifteen minutes, instead of progressing with a natural fluidity. I found myself questioning the why and the wherefore of many scenes, including the abrupt and ambiguous ending. Worth watching for Swinton (what isn't?), but an overall meh film.


Oh man, if only this was a follow-up to the above flick... By now you've read how kick-ass Meryl Streep's channeling of kitchen guru Julia Child is. You won't be reading otherwise here. She's funny and endearing, yet there is unexpected depth in her turn here. Yeah, it's La Streep, but last year was kind of a two-punch of insanity and scenery-chewing. Here, we get a real person -- though she does seem bored during the television segments. Julia was a heavy breather and took her time, but she also had an exhilarating joie de vivre that reached out to the viewers at home. It's the only misstep in a brilliant performance.

Ah, yes, but there is more to the film than La Streep. Amy Adams does a fine job as Julie Powell, a present-day blogger who cooks her way through Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's not an easy character, to be sure: while the real Powell is full of snark and bitchery, writer-director Nora Ephron tries to make her...you know...nice, but still with a cool edge to her. It doesn't completely gel. Chris Messina and Stanley Tucci play Julie & Julia's respective husbands, and are just great. Messina is shaping up to be one of the most reliable Everyman actors working, and Tucci...holy crap, Tucci. Tucci and Streep have a chemistry that practically demands remakes of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Thin Man, and (if this was twenty years ago) It Happened One Night. Now, these two gel, and their husband-and-wife routine is so natural, you'd think they were married off-screen. Jane Lynch, Joan Juliet Buck and Linda Emond also offer magnetic supporting roles as Julia's sister, teacher, and co-author.

The food is scrumptious to stare at, particularly the sole meuniere that opens the film. Costumes are beautiful, so that's always a treat. Alexandre Desplat's score is whimsical and delightfully simple, with the standard "Time After Time" (not Cyndi Lauper, alas) as a key theme used throughout. I guess the same can be said for the most of the film -- it's fun and sweet, but it's never TOO lit, TOO written, TOO art directed. Everything plays naturally and realistically, and coming from the director of Bewitched (the cinematic equivalent of water-boarding), it's a huge relief.


Suspenseful, funny, touching. Quentin Tarantino never ceases to surprise me. An ensemble flick centered around the theme of revenge and the effects of the Second World War, Tarantino offers neither blessing or damnation on the actions of the sadistic Basterds, a group of Americans hell-bent on revenge against the Nazis. It's interesting, since they do not distinguish between the officers who give out the orders and the grunts who merely fight a war for their country. I do not find this to be a negative, mind you. Rather, I see it as another layer to a surprisingly complex film. Everyone assumes they are the only ones capable of bringing order and balance to the world -- the Basterds through the systematic extermination of Nazis, Colonel Hans Landa (holy crap Christoph F'n Waltz) through the systematic extermination of "inferior" races, Jewish refugee Shoshana (Melanie Laurent) through a fortunate opportunity for revenge. A particular dinner scene underlines this intriguingly, with two opposing forces finding themselves dining with their prey. Incredible.

And it's all served up with Tarantino's usual talkiness, references to old films, and unrelenting violence. What, you thought you were going to be spared the horrors of a scalping? Fuhgeddaboutit. Mind, when one of my friends pointed out that a number of plot points and scenes were lifted almost verbatim from the Kill Bill films, I was a little disappointed, but Woody Allen's been ripping himself off for decades, and he's my favorite writer. I can forgive Tarantino, especially for the intriguing new interpretations he gives to some of these details. No, if we are to talk about a problem with his writing, it's the constant talking. I left for seven minutes (I was holding it for an hour and a half, for God's sake!) and missed nothing. Nothing. Three people were in a room, I left, I came back, they were still there. Hey, Sally Menke, you're the editor...EDIT.

Standouts in the cast include: Christoph Waltz as Col. Landa, aka The Jew Hunter; Melanie Laurent as Shoshana Dreyfuss; Diane Kruger as German actress/spy Bridget Von Hammersmark; Eli Roth as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, whose eyes tell it all; and Michael Fassbender as British spy Lt. Archie Hicox, who is very British.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Harry Brown

Looks awesome. Michael Caine is my favorite living actor, so you know I'm looking forward to this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Two, I'm Thinking of You....

Just days after the tragic passing of Patrick Swayze, we have to say goodbye to another one of the greats.

Henry Gibson, 73, passed away Monday at his home in Malibu.

Gibson is one of my favorite actors. I'll still use present-tense, though he is gone. My personal favorite performance of his is in Robert Altman's 1975 opus Nashville, in which he played high-falutin' country singer Haven Hamilton. Like the rest of the cast, Gibson penned his own songs, and his are among the best in the film, from the satirically patriotic "200 Years" to the genuinely amazing romantic ballad "One, I Love You."

His claim to fame on the Silver Screening Room, of course, is having appeared in more Casting Coups than any other actor. He's an amazingly versatile performer, as proficient in comedy as he is in drama.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen. You are already sorely missed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thank You for Being a Friend, SAG

The Hollywood Reporter brings tidings of great joy!

First up, one of the Golden Girls is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild!!! Three guesses on who. Hint: you'll only need two.

It's like everyone I love is getting an award this year! Roger Corman, Lauren Bacall, and now last year's Hollmann Awards Host! Thank you, awards season. I appreciate it.

And hey, this week's SSR obsession, A Single Man, just got a distributor! Of course, it's The Weinstein Company, so while they're aces with awards, they also hate releasing their movies. (Trick 'r Treat, anyone?)

Rumor has it, of course, that this may push Nine out of this calendar year, what with the moolah spent on an Awards Campaign. Which would be...AWFUL. But it's just a rumor, so I will hope against hope that it's not true.

(If they push anything, make it The Road. Who really wants to see that?)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happy Tidings?

I hear Venice is a pretty important film festival or something. So I felt like it was important when it was recently announced that Mr. Colin Firth won the award for Best Actor last night!

L to R: Director/Writer Tom Ford, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode

Congratulations, Mr. Firth! Hopefully, A Single Man will get picked up and released so I can revel in cinematic awesome. Remember the gorgeous trailer?

A Single Man

I always give mad props to Colin Firth, an under-appreciated actor who has already one great performance of 2009 (that would be Easy Virtue, and you all need to see it right now). Apparently, though, there is a LEAD role for him playing in Toronto right now. Check out this spectacular trailer:

Yes, please!


Reason to Believe in God

Friday, September 11, 2009

Justice is Served

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please. It has come to my attention (and thank you, Salon.com), that the first three Oscar winners of the season have been announced. My friends, read this:

Actress Lauren Bacall, producer-director Roger Corman and cinematographer Gordon Willis are the first Oscar winners of the season.

The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Thursday that the three will receive honorary Oscar statuettes.

You see the most important name there, right?

Roger Effing Corman.

Producer-writer-director Corman has been in the business for, like, a hundred years and has made over 200 million films. Or something like that. He started the careers of Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson. He nurtured Vincent Price's reputation as a horror star. He was an extra in Rachel Getting Married. And now, he's getting his due.

So, to the man who made House of Usher, Death Race 2000, The Little Shop of Horrors, A Bucket of Blood, Caged Heat, Creature from the Haunted Sea, and many many more, I send out a congratulatory toast. Here's to you, Mr. Corman!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Black Dahlia

I don't quite know what to think of The Black Dahlia, Brian De Palma's curious 2006 adaptation of James Ellroy's novel. I give Josh Friedman props for trying to simplify the self-indulgently complicated source material. And certainly Vilkos Zsigmond's cinematography is deserving of its Oscar nomination, evoking as it does the films of Hitchcock -- and certainly everything is done to make Scarlett Johansson resemble Kim Novak. It's Brian De Palma's usual wackiness, and indeed, despite not knowing what the hell was going on (and I read the book, for Chrissakes), I was having a good time.

But those last ten minutes are hell. Too much information is thrown at the audience too quickly. At just two hours, the film carries the stench of Over Editing. Watching it with a group of friends last night, we were all bewildered at random transitions, unexplained events, characters that were introduced and then forgotten about, and subplots that did not get the full-bodied treatment they deserve.

What suffers most in this instance is the running thread of obsession. The whole reason Josh Hartnett begins an affair with Hilary Swank in the film is because of his growing obsession with the Dahlia, yet there is little to support this. What, he watches one screen test reel and suddenly he's schtupping some high-class brunette? Get outta here.

Another problem with that plotline, of course, is that Swank's Madeline Linscott is supposed to look like Mia Kirshner's Black Dahlia, aka Elizabeth Short.

I guess they're both brunettes. Other than that, I see nothing similar between the two. Not the eyes, not the shape of the face, not even the same haircut! Apparently, Swank got the role after Fairuza Balk and the superb Eva Green (who would've rocked the role) turned it down. I don't understand the line of thought that leads to casting the physical opposite of all of these girls. It's a clear case of choosing the NAME before the TALENT.

It's a shame, because the actors are giving it their all, but they're floundering. Everyone is in a different movie. Swank tries to be stylized, but it sounds as if she's doing a bad impression of Cate Blanchett's Kate Hepburn from The Aviator. Aaron Eckhart is also stylized, but the movie ignores him far too much for his performance to take full effect. Hartnett is deadly serious, at odds with the rest of the cast. Johansson finds a happy medium, though she's a bit shaky in the first ten minutes, when she opts to ACT! the part.

The ladies do save the day, though. Kirshner and Fiona Shaw (as Swank's mother) are the most consistent with their performances, with the former suitably bewitching, and the latter chewing the scenery to the point of excess -- but it works. If only everyone in the film was working at the level of commitment Shaw displays. She's not just crazy, she's looney tunes, and it's delightful. Her limited screen time had me thinking of Baby Jane: The One-Woman Show.

I don't think I am alone in stating that hers is the best performance in the film. Certainly most of the people in the room agreed that what the film needed was more of the Linscotts, and by Linscotts we mean Fiona Shaw.

In the end, I think it was a consensus among the group that, if anyone's to blame, it's probably editor Bill Pankow. The movie is cut confusingly, so that there's no telling where anyone is until we're already in the middle of a scene. It's irritating. I could even take dissolves if he at least timed them correctly, but they seem to occur haphazardly.

Also on the list: Whoever allowed this to be edited down from a three-hour cut. They should be taken out and beaten. Some movies require room to breathe, time to develop. Are producers aware of what they're adapting when they buy the rights to books? Watchmen, though I loved it, suffered from having to be edited down; count The Black Dahlia as another victim.

One last note. The most curious piece occurs at the end, when Hartnett suddenly has a vision of the body of the Black Dahlia as she was found by police. Until this moment, we have not seen the body, and we suddenly get to see the whole corpse in a hokey, outrageous cut that is almost comical. De Palma confesses that this was intentional (and he seems PROUD!!!), saying that it is akin to the "shock" at the end of Carrie. But Brian, dear Brian: your movie is about obsessing over this corpse! Would it not have been stronger to show the body once, at the beginning, and let that image haunt us throughout the rest of the film? Substance over style!

Eh, I'd probably buy it. It's enjoyable enough on a level of absurdity. But oy, what a disappointment!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Call Me Grouchy, But...

...every time I see Oscar predictions for Up that don't involve screenplay or Animated Feature, I cringe. Surely, surely there must be ten better movies in the running! I like the movie, I really do, but Pixar's done better (Ratatouille, Finding Nemo). I've got my Top Ten updated to the right -- alphabetical, not ranked -- and I don't think Up has ever cracked it.

I dig Animated Features (I do think they should be considered as equals in the Picture race), I liked most of the voice-acting, but the movie peaks in its opening montage. And that fucking kid! How can anybody look at this and say, "YES! That was so me as a kid!" Why should Carl sacrifice his seventy years for Toucan Sam on acid? And how old is Charles Muntz supposed to be, anyway?

*Sigh* I really did like it. Honest I did. It's heart is in the right place, but it just misses the mark.