Monday, May 31, 2010

So Far, These Are So Good

The month of May is at an end, and I've finally seen enough worthy films to make a Top Ten (So Far). Check it out on the sidebar (alphabetically), or right below (in descending order of love). Some of these movies have not gotten proper reviews, and I don't know why. I'll get on that.

1. Mother
2. Blue Valentine
3. The Runaways
4. A Prophet
5. Greenberg
6. The Ghost Writer
7. Kick-Ass
8. Shutter Island
9. Iron Man 2
10. Hot Tub Time Machine

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Everyone Says I Love "Everyone Says I Love You"

This post is a part of Andrew's Musicals Blog-a-thon. (Sorry for the late entry, Andrew!) Check it out at Encore Entertainment.

Pierce Brosnan was crucified universally for his singing in Mamma Mia!, even earning a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor. I may be the lone voice here, but I found him absolutely great in the movie. He plays it straight, and even though his voice isn't trained, he can carry a tune. It's not like he's tone-deaf. Anyway, there's a certain charm to that rough voice, and while that would be unsuitable for something like Andrew Lloyd Weber or Stephen Sondheim, this is ABBA. Brosnan sounds like someone's dad using the music of his youth to best express how he feels, and he's sincere about it. He's got feeling in his delivery, and that's what I want when someone's singing.

Everyone Says I Love You, Woody Allen's only musical, is based entirely around this idea. Few of the actors can sing or dance; those that can were asked to do so worse. The idea here is that normal, everyday people, not given the gift of Garland, can become so full of emotion and romance that they are compelled to sing despite their own limitations. It's a beautiful and dangerous idea, yet Woody is blessed with actors who can actually carry a tune for the most part.

I mean, he's no Frank Sinatra, but I wish Edward Norton would sing more. He's at least as good as Fred Astaire (though the same cannot be said for his dancing). We never for one moment doubt his sincerity when he croons to Drew Barrymore, "What are your charms for/What are my arms for/Use your imagination!" And honestly, the dorky dance in the Harry Winston number is charming. Norton acquits himself admirably in the first two numbers, and even though it's just a snippet, his portion of "I'm Thru With Love" begs to be expanded into a full solo.

Tim Roth's embarrassingly uncouth ex-convict also gets a moment to shine, as he seduces Miss Barrymore in a rooftop serenade. Drew's been waiting for a knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet, and while Edward Norton's a nice guy, there's no dramatic flair to him. So when Roth corners her on the balcony, immediately names all the places he'd like to diddle her, and finishes off by singing "If I Had You"...well, wouldn't you break off your engagement? Against words like, "I could climb a snow-capped mountain/Sail the mighty ocean wide/I could cross the burning desert/If I had you by my side", Norton's little opener seems...quaint.

But Woody's no fool. Most of the numbers are performed by an ensemble of trained singers. Even though the focus is on ordinary voices singing extraordinary songs, he is at least smart enough not to spend so much time on the more awful singers, even cutting away from himself after only getting a few lines into "I'm Thru with Love". (This, by the way, is smart. Not only are we spared Woody's straining vocals, but it furthers the impact of his despair by not allowing him to finish.) Drew Barrymore was dubbed over by Olivia Hayman when she and Woody agreed that her voice was beyond the levels of human tolerance. She has since appeared as a singer in Lucky You and a songwriter in Music and Lyrics. Only Julia Roberts stands out as having the longest song and the worst voice.

His greatest choice? Saving the best for last. Goldie Hawn is the only trained singer and dancer in the cast. Woody even asked her to try singing worse so that she'd more believable. Yet he also gives her the best number, the full version of "I'm Thru With Love", sung by the Seine, culminating in a dance that reminds us of the Hollywood musicals of the 1930s. It's romantic and magical, and is about 60% of the reason why Everyone Says I Love You is my second favorite movie (Nashville, another unconventional musical, is my Number One).

(The dialogue is dubbed into Italian, I believe. Enjoy the song, though)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rufio! Rufio! Ru! Fi! Oooooooo!

I felt like a Glenn Close movie tonight, so I went through her filmography to see what was readily available. Of course, the only thing we had on hand was Steven Spielberg's Hook, the 1993 adventure film in which Glenn cameos as a male pirate executed by the titular captain. Now, I'd never seen Hook before, but it came highly recommended by all of my friends. Everyone my age chants "Rufio! Rufio! Ru! Fi! Oooooo!" My girlfriend refuses to believe Maggie Smith would be a perfect Mrs. Danvers because, to her, she will always be Grandmother Wendy. My friend Kurtis used to blast the score during drives. It is a film much beloved by my generation, and while I was aware of its less esteemed status in the critical world, I know only too well that they sometimes mistake a masterpiece for a mistake. So we loaded up the Instant Watch on our Netflix, and I watched Hook for the first time, curious and a little excited.'s not a terrible movie, at least. But it's not very good, either.

Now, it starts out interestingly enough. Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is a serious workaholic who neglects his beautiful English wife (Caroline Goodall) and two children (Charlie Korsmo, Amber Scott). They go to England so that he may speak at a dedication ceremony for the old woman who took him in as a child, Grandmother Wendy (Maggie Smith, who you should know is my favorite actor ever), and while there, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps the children. Peter Banning must travel back to Never-Neverland and remember that he is, in fact, Peter Pan. Now this is an intriguing concept, because while Peter's conflict is an inability to grow up, here he needs to find his childlike wonder. And I think that's a beautiful theme to explore, for too often is the easy enchantment of youth looked down on cynically as naive and foolish. It's also perfect fodder for a filmmaker, for surely filmmakers like Spielberg, Zemeckis and Cameron have never lost the awed imaginings of their youth. That balance between adulthood and childhood, of the importance of a parent to be both responsible and fun-loving, that should be bread and butter for Spielberg!

Then there's the little plot points that are oh so intriguing. Hook using Peter's neglect to get his son to join up with the Pirates is deliciously evil! To see that develop would be a masterwork indeed, especially if we do get to see young Jack actually stand by Hook's side. Oh, and Julia Roberts embodying that mischievous pixie Tinkerbell, young and fun-loving, but old enough to feel love for the Boy Who Never Grew Up But Actually Did And He's Now Robin Williams. To finally explore the complications of that relationship is something I've been waiting for! And both these elements are addressed quite beautifully within the film...

...before being immediately dropped within a scene. True, the plot with Hook and Jack is an important subplot, but we never really believe the clock-smashing is anything more than momentary anger, and he never seems to warm to the idea of lording it over Never-Neverland. Maybe that's the point, but there should at least be some tension, some conflict in that story. The Tinkerbell subplot is handled within two scenes, the rest of the work accomplished by a brilliant Julia Roberts, who seems to be the only adult besides Smith who knows what movie she's in. Only they balance pathos with humor appropriately, and they never make a scene all about them. The writers and director have given them the more adult themes to work with, and they deliver them without ever losing the kids.

Smith is especially deft at this, as we see in the scene where she introduces a still-young Pan to her granddaughter. It's a beautiful moment as she realizes, with some sadness in her eyes, that she is giving her granddaughter the one thing she could never have, and offering Peter a life he never realized he wanted. Of course, this is undercut by the sheer illogic of it all: if children never age in Never-Neverland, why then does Peter grow to be thirteen? Is it that the kids only grow up to thirteen? But then why do some of the younger Lost Boys in Never-Neverland know and remember the Peter Pan of old? If a movie can't obey it's own rules...why should I give a darn?

The problem, really, is that the movie insists on being a kid's movie. All those serious, thought-provoking moments are undercut by food fights, name-calling contests, a training montage (!), fat jokes, etc., etc., etc. Some awful kid-acting by the Lost Boys is only highlighted by the always brilliant Charlie Korsmo (I've seen three of his six movies, and he's always the best thing in them) and the underused Amber Scott. Which reminds me: what the hell happened to Amber Scott's character? She disappears for a good chunk of the movie, and then we see her imprisoned with other children during the final battle. Also, WHO THE FUCK ARE THOSE OTHER CHILDREN? Also, why does no one care when one of the central characters is killed off? Oh, it's mentioned once, but it's glossed over so quickly that it might as well have never happened. And oh my God, couldn't someone yell "cut" or "stick to the script" during the scenes where Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins were obviously improvising? I missed half of what they said, and for what? So they can show me they're good at riffing? I don't blame Hoskins, but Hoffman, who is notorious for getting his costars to play these little games with him. And after all is said and done, it's these little diversions that cause the film to clock in at 2 hours and 22 minutes, which is at least two rolling fat kids too long in my book.

Yes, there are so, so, so many problems with Hook. Obviously, the majority of them regard tone and script, and possibly editing. But what it gets right, it gets so right. Again, the performances of Korsmo, Scott, Roberts and Smith are stellar, along with Caroline Goodall and Robin Williams, who actually makes a great Peter Pan. It's not his fault that once this adult male dons the tights once more, it looks more creepy than heroic. He's doing a bang-up job! Hoffman is great mostly, if only he didn't insist on the riffing. John Williams' score suggests a more magical film than the one I saw. Production design is superb, and I'm sure each viewing offers more to see, more little in-jokes to spot. And the costumes and the makeup, and the FX were amazing for the time, and technically it's all very well and good. Oh, and I would be a liar if I dared to even suggest that I won't be chanting "bangarang" and "Rufio! Rufio! Ru! Fi! Oooooo!" the rest of my life. But that script...if only someone had figured out what to do with the story.

In the end? I'm glad I finally saw it, but I don't think anyone could really love this movie apart from a childhood nostalgia.

Oh, and I didn't much care for that Glenn Close cameo. Like, what was the point?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bonjour, Awards!

I know I don't cover Cannes over here at all, mostly because I'm not there, and I find just writing out a reaction to others' reactions a pointless endeavor. If you want to look back at their Cannes coverage, Sasha Stone went to Cannes for the first time, Jeff Wells hated Certified Copy and loved Biutiful, and Guy Lodge covered for In Contention. Relating the winners, on the other hand, is fair game (get it? because Fair Game premiered at Cannes and didn't win!).

Palme d'Or
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
From director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand. A dying man is visited by non-human forms of his wife and son.

Best Director
Mathieu Amaltic, On Tour
France. Man joins up with a traveling burlesque group, featuring an ensemble of girls playing themselves.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
From director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Spain. Single father cares for kids, brother, immigrants.
Elio Germano, La Nostra Vita
From director Daniele Luchetti, Italy. A man fights against the injustices life brings to him.

Best Actress
Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy
From director Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France. English writer doing book tour meets French woman who goes to see him speak.

Lee Chang-dong, Poetry
Korea. An older woman's perspective on life changes when she takes a poetry class.

Jury Prize
A Screaming Man
From director Mahamet-Salah Haroun. A pool attendant at a hotel in Chad gets new employers during civil war.

Congratulations to all. As for Fair Game and Another Year, the Cannes premieres I most anticipate...maybe you'll do better in the upcoming Season?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

She Will Find Her Way, If She Can Be Strong

Drew Barrymore is the Unofficial First Lady of the Silver Screening Room, so naturally anything that comes up involving her is of great interest to us. It's usually good news (Golden Globe! SAG Award!), though every now and then there's a tiny hiccup (Everybody's Fine). This trailer for her latest romantic-comedy, Going the Distance (August 27), looks to be in the former camp:

It is, I believe, the first time she's headlining an R-rated rom-com. She's also signed on to star in a movie with SSR favorite John Krasinski, and may even direct Surrender, Dorothy, a Wizard of Oz sequel she was attached to produce and star in waaaay back when I was a freshman in high school.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Magnificent Mother, Ho-Hum Hood


It's been a while since I've watched a mystery with so many twists and turns, so many thrills, such spellbinding performances, that I'm taken in. Instead of trying to guess whodunnit, looking for the clues, trying to sort out what the twist will be in my head, I was instead transfixed by the amateur sleuth of the title. She fell in and out of danger, made mistakes, bullied police officers, came to conclusions both right and wrong, and danced. Yes, danced -- the film opens with a mesmerizing dance number, not without purpose, that pretty much served as an offer to the Silver Screener to fall in love with cinema once more.

And it worked! For Bong Joon-ho's Mother is a masterful thriller, one of the proud few that not only bamboozled me, but left me gasping, gripping the arms of my chair (apologies to my seatmate), leaning forward as the goose pimples formed on my arms and legs. Anchored by a spectacular performance by Kim Hye-ja, the film follows a long-time widow who gets her Miss Marple on when her son - a dimwit convincingly portrayed by Won Bin - is accused of the murder of a schoolgirl. Helped by neither the careless police nor her forgetful offspring, Mother takes it upon herself to find the truth.

As I say, Hye-ja's performance is breathtaking. Mother is overbearing, caring much too much for her son, their relationship just shy of Oedipal. Her tenacity in proving her son's innocence is, of course, the driving force of the film, and her obsession leads her to actions that are by turns brave, alarming and pathetic. Hye-ja is delicate with her movements, dainty and ladylike, her hands often folded together nervously. Her face can be kind, ruthless, broken....or crazed. It's one of those ingenious performances that manages to balance sincerity with camp. And again, that dance.

Joon-ho has assembled a fine ensemble that can play dark comedy without being ridiculous. Besides Mother and son, we also get the handsome, ne'erdowell friend of the accused (Jin Goo); the well-meaning but tired detective (Yoon Je-moon); the crazed grandmother of the victim (Na Mun-hee); the friend who helps in Mother's sleuthing (Jun Mi-sun); and various villagers, policemen, biddies and schoolgirls. It's like Korea's own St. Mary Mead...though, as Miss Marple would say, "Human nature is very much the same everywhere."

Except for that final, overlong, irritating tracking shot, Joon-ho and cinematographer Hong Kyeong-pyo make their coverage effective and haunting. Seeing Mother walk from camera left to camera right, a wide expanse of mountain and wheat above, behind, and below would give any cinephile a total filmgasm. "It's just her!" it bellows, an obvious cry, but effective nonetheless. And that sometimes suspenseful, sometimes fun score by Lee Byung-woo, enhances the feel of it all. I caught myself humming the tune bookmarking the film, a sure sign of excellence, right?

Refreshing, suspenseful, and overall glorious. Is it overlong? Mayhaps, but I could easily watch it again.


...which is probably more than I can say for Ridley Scott's OK prequel to the legend of England's most famous outlaw. Funny: I remember genuinely enjoying myself while in the theater, but it's not exactly incredible. It's not as bad as some would have you believe, but it's easily forgettable. That's a real shame, because the film seems to have everything going for it. The actors are fine, the cinematography beautiful, the score memorable and effective. There's nothing really wrong with Robin Hood, per se...but you wouldn't recommend it to people. I keep forgetting I've seen it, even though I remember getting excited at the climactic battle scene, laughing with the Merry Men, and once again appreciating a fine Cate Blanchett performance. But it's all so paint-by-numbers, you know? And the only thing I remember of Russell Crowe is in the trailers. He's good, but he's also slightly miscast.

Wait for HBO.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

They'll Love It Everyplace

I've realized it's been a while since I posted. So I just wanted to drop back in to say a little bit about Sunset Blvd.

As I was watching this classic for the first time last night, I wondered if my opinion was a little biased. I had always heard it was one of the greatest movies ever made. Was I consciously rebelling against the status quo by feeling dissatisfied with much of the proceedings? Could it be that it would be me, Walter Hollmann, who objected to a campy performance from a screen queen of a bygone era? Such a thing would be unheard, unworthy of me! I've built my passion for cinema on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Vincent Price. Camp is my bread and butter. What was keeping me from committing to this film?

Then came New Year's Eve, about 50 minutes into this almost two-hour film. And that's when I realized the trouble. It wasn't the borderline camp performance of Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond -- who, at 49 years of age, was incredibly sexy (how William Holden struggled with this for those 50 minutes is beyond me) -- but the fucking voice-over, telling me in its pulpy vocabulary what was unfolding before my eyes. And I realized this because William Holden's voice-over disappears for about twenty or thirty minutes as an actual story unfolds, and I loved every part of it. This span of time enhances one's appreciation for Swanson's incredible performance, one that is rightfully considered to be one of the greatest acting feats of all time.

For Swanson is incredible, Holden...serviceable -- but then, I've always cared for his later work more -- and Erich Von Stroheim a marvel. But that script by producer Charles Brackett and director Billy Wilder relies too much on that voice-over, and it almost kills the whole experience. Most of what we see...we see. We don't need Joe Gillis telling us in his melodramatic narrative voice what we're watching. Of course, the entire film is a screed against Hollywood, one more vicious than any version of What Makes Sammy Run? could ever hope to be, so perhaps the voice-over works as an example of the writer's ego. I can see where one might see the unnecessary metaphors and embellishments as a dig at egotistical writers who use superfluous language, and Joe Gillis certainly seems like one of those. But it undercuts many of the dramatic moments, especially the finale.

I don't know how many of you have seen it, but I'm glad I went into it knowing as little as I did. Still, we all know the finale: Holden's been dead since the opening credits, and Swanson/Norma descends the staircase as news cameras go, thinking they're movie cameras. "I'm ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille." And they actually have Holden narrate what's going on, about how Norma finally got in front of the cameras again, but at what price, and boo-hoo Hollywood, and it's SO IRRITATING that I can only marvel that Norma only shot him three times instead of the full six he deserved.

That said...

What Billy Wilder and cinematographer John F. Seitz accomplish with the shots of the film are awe-inspiring. I never expected to see the beauty that I saw, from the decrepit mansion on the titular street to the Reader's Department at Paramount Studios. The Oscar-winning production design is of course a credit to the overall effect as well, but good Lord, Seitz flatters it with his subtle and effective technique. This is the man who lit Double Indemnity for Christ's sake, nominated for seven Oscars and somehow never winning a single one. He's no Ernest Haller (Baby Jane, Gone with the Wind, Rebel without a Cause), but goddamn he's a class-act!

Erich Von Stroheim...I know he never changes his expression, nor does he really alter his line-readings. But his performance here was genuine. Perhaps the fact that he actually did direct Swanson in a feature 20 years prior to this film helped; whatever, it was striking to see him on-screen, and this wound up being my favorite performance in the film. Maybe it's because he's the most developed and sympathetic of the leads -- Norma's insane, Joe is a dick, and Betty is cute but the Girl Next Door -- maybe, yes, it's the role and not necessarily the actor...but no. No, Von Stroheim plays the devoted manservant with the right amount of worship, wisdom, and gravitas. To choose between him and George Sanders in All About Eve is unfair.

And when it forgets that damnable VO, the script soars. Those legendary lines are legendary for a reason. It's not just the way Swanson delivers them -- though, rest assured, that is 60% of it. Wilder, Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr., have written some delicious dialogue. "I am big; it's the pictures that got small." "You'd be killing yourself to an empty house." "-Don't you sometimes hate yourself?  -Constantly." I literally laughed out loud at that last one, and this was two in the morning, people. Even those little narrative elements, like the burial and the unlocked doors, are just nuts and whipped cream on the Sunset sundae.

The more I reflect on Sunset Blvd, the more I adore it. Especially Gloria Swanson's performance. I need to see Judy Holliday's performance in Born Yesterday, because already 1950 seems like a badass year for actressing. I mean, Swanson, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in Eve and Eleanor Parker in Caged!? Holy fuck. Has any year ever measured up to this level of excellence? If we're starved for perfect actress lineups in Oscars since then, it's because 1950 used up all the superlative brilliance.

Yeah, I'm very happy I saw it. I'm happy I'm listening to the soundtrack of Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical version at the moment. Mind, I didn't fall in love with it the way I did All About Eve, nor is the musical a match for the fabulousness of the amazing, immortal, incredible Applause. But it's a classic for a reason, and those who doubt its excellence...well, I can understand their point of view, but I don't agree with it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I See You, Archie

I love Archie, really. I love it even more when it's trying to be current. Now that Avatar is out on BLURAY and dvd, the kids at Riverdale are finally catching it at the local Bijou. Also, Archie thinks a 3D experience involves more than just sight. Archie, you nincompoop, this isn't Disney Hollywood Studios; what made you think this was 4D?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Music Meme

Was tagged here by Andrew to participate in this "meme about music". And so I cannot resist!

1. Open up your iTunes, music player, spin the CD, whatever, hit shuffle and tell us what is the first song to play?

"Opening" by Philip Glass, originally written for Mishima, but appearing on my iTunes from The Truman Show.

2. Name your top five favorite bands/musicians of all time.
Oh, let's see. Philip Glass, The Beatles, ABBA, The Decemberists and The Spice Girls.

3. What was your first CD to own? (8 track, record, CD, MP3 for the newbies)
Pure Disco 2, a compilation of hits ranging from "I Will Survive" to "Love Rollercoaster". I think it was third or fourth grade, and my sister's boyfriend at the time presented it as a birthday gift. Still listen to it.

4. Of all the bands/artists in your cd/record collection, which one do you own the most albums by?
Actual CDs? The Beatles, with six. As for my iTunes: Philip Glass, with 46.

5. What was the last song you listened to?

"On My Way to Canaan's Land"

6. What song would you say sums you up?
I don't know. I mean, like, who can really be summed up in a song, man? Maybe "Little Person" from Synecdoche, NY? Or "Applause" from Applause? Kind of different, but somewhere in the middle is me.

7. What's your favourite local band or band that originated from your hometown?
We've had a few come from here, but I guess Marilyn Manson is the one I would play before anyone else. This even surprises me, but he's damn good at what he does.

8. What's the greatest concert you've ever been to?
The free Weezer concert at FSU. Incredible.

9. What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?
Philip Glass, obviously. He's so interesting! I'd love to just pick his brain.

10. What was the greatest decade for music?
There's never been a bad one. I have a number of songs from Cole Porter, Gershwin, Backstreet Boys, Bob Dylan, Electric Light Orchestra, ABBA, Lily Allen, Nat King Cole, The Beatles, etc. I love it all.

11. What is your favorite movie soundtrack?
Xanadu, hands down. From the opening "I'm Alive" to the titular finale, it's a non-stop trip to pleasure town. "The Fall" has to be one of my favoritest songs ever written, "Dancin'" is why musicals exist, and "Don't Walk Away" is powerful.

12. What's the most awful CD/record/etc. you've ever bought?
Don't even have to think about this. Holiday Hounds, a collection of Christmas songs as performed by the "dogs barking" setting on a keyboard. It's gratingly, ears-bleeding awful, and a good argument for why you shouldn't make midnight trips to Wal-Mart after partaking of a questionable buffet.

13. What's your favorite band t-shirt or poster?
Like, that I own or what? I have a sepia-tinted Beatles one from their Sgt. Pepper's period. It's pretty cool.

14. Rolling Stones or The Beatles?
The Beatles. Please. Rolling Stones is a glorious rock band. The Beatles refuses to be kept to one genre.

15. What is the one song you would most like played at your funeral? Your birthday? While on a romantic date?
The answer to the first two is my all-time favorite song of all time, "Everlasting Love", as performed by a string quartet (funeral) and Carl Carlton (birthday). As for a romantic date, I'm pretty partial to "Don't Walk Away" from Xanadu.

As I do, I tag Who is the March King and TomS.

Iron Man 2, 2 Good

I love Iron Man 2.That feeling I got at the end of the first one - joy, excitement, anticipation of a next chapter, the realization that the Great Movie Season was upon us - was back again, this time from the word go. You know in those old movies when something surprising and mind-blowing happens and the heroine throws her hands up to her face? I did that. I didn't even realize it until I set them down, but my instinctive physical response to the film climactic fight sequence was the ol' hands-to-face routine. Exciting!

What's interesting is that they manager to progress the character by regressing the character. The Tony Stark who realized there was a world to save in the first movie, has let that power, fame and awesomeness go to his head. And so, once again, we get Robert Downey, Jr., doing his fast-talking smart-assery while Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle try to keep a handle on him. Ah-ha, but there's a darker edge to his behavior, due to plot developments that you'll just have to see for yourself. So, yeah, he's reckless and kind of an asshole, but he's Tony fucking Stark, so he's also lovable and we know he's going to come round in the end. Hurrah!

The villains are great fun. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko is mesmerizing to behold, with Rourke disappearing into the role. I know, I know: it's an Iron Man movie, where everyone's constantly winking at the camera, but sue me, the man actually becomes a Russian baddie. He's amazing to watch, and so it's a shame that he's kind of given short shrift in the film's finale. For such a great climax, it really blueballs the audience Rourke-wise. Not so much Sam Rockwell's nefarious Justin Hammer, Stark's competitor, who is deliciously sleazy. To see these two Hollmann Award Winners sharing scenes of villainy together was almost too much. I wish we had more of them, really.

Except I don't, because there's one thing the Iron Man movies have that the other superhero movies don't: a hero more interesting than his villains. And I love the villains in the Iron Man movies, even Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane (don't know why people didn't, I thought he was incredible). It's not that the bad guys are boring. It's that this is a superhero franchise that's actually about the title character! Crazy, novel idea, that! No Kevin Spacey chewing scenery, no Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson getting awards, no Thomas Haden Church getting the better underscore, no William Hurt; we paid for Iron Man, and that's what we're going to get!

(This is not true, of course, for the Fantastic Four movies, which have no one of interest, anywhere.)

You have to give credit to director Jon Favreau and scribe Justin Theroux for remaining fun while still developing a story and characters. They've managed to find a perfect balance for this film, assisted by the effective score by John Debney. I don't remember any music of note in the first one, but Debney's opening piece is still ringing in my ears, a haunting track that's going to get a lot of play on my iTunes. And by the way, Mary Zophres' costume designs are just as fun, from Whiplash's outfits to Stark's smoking jacket to Hammer's suits. Not to mention the catsuit worn by Tony Award Nominee Scarlett Johansson.

She's fun, by the way. Not distracting, and actually plays a real role in the film's proceedings. I was afraid it would be a glorified cameo, but she's quite effective here. Seems unfair to the male population that she shares so many scenes with Gwyneth Paltrow in which both wear skirts and heels. If we have heart attacks now, how will we buy tickets for the Thor? And furthermore, once scene has them conferring in a room, and Christiane Amanpour appears on one of the television screens. Where was I, Heaven?

OK, typical hetero male rant over. It's a great movie and a fun ride. Been too long since I wrote a completely positive review. Really, there hasn't been a movie this good since Kick-Ass, and that was almost a month ago. I can't recommend Iron Man 2 highly enough.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good Girl

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is quite an interesting film. It's really no different in style or tone from most adult crime thrillers, reminding me of Red Dragon and Nolan's Insomnia. The mystery is exciting, and while I could see where it was going about 1/3 of the way through, it was still satisfying and never dull.

Let me get this one qualm out of the way first, though. There are two rape scenes in Act One that I felt had little to no impact on the story. These rape scenes, graphic and humiliating, did nothing for either character or plot. There are other scenes in the film that give us an idea of who the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander, is, what makes her tick, etc. The rape scenes are from a completely different film, a grittier film that was more character study than crime thriller. And while the filmmakers are doing an admirable job of giving us completely developed protagonists, those rape scenes alienated and appalled me. Call me a prude, say I missed the point, whatever. I don't approve.

Now that's out of the way, I can continue with my praise. And there is much to admire about this film. As I said, it's a great mystery, and the clues are all there for you to sift there. There's little "cheating" as far as that goes. Noomi Rapace is quite good in the role of Lisbeth, a punk hacker with secrets and sleuthing skills. Michael Nyqvist is the other sleuth, Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist employed to solve a forty-year-old mystery surrounding a disappearance, and he is fantastic. With rumors of a remake, all I've read are people wondering how they can get an actress as good as Noomi Rapace. For me, it's matching the subtle but sizable contributions of Nyqvist that's the real challenge. He's the pulse of the film, and while it's Lisbeth who brings to light most of the social commentary, Mikael is the one to watch.

The performances really anchor the movie, which is sometimes fantastically-directed and effectively-lit, while at other times resembling Season Three of the PBS Marple series: a little murky, a little too insistent on making you sure you understand the importance of certain objects by cutting to them constantly. So strange. The score, too, starts out beautifully, and has a great main theme going throughout, but distracts at other times. It's like there's a school for scoring thrillers, and woe to him that challenges the accepted teachings.

But overall? A great movie. Inconsistent tonally sometimes, but I'd see it again. If David Fincher really does direct the American version, though, it will be a decided improvement, one that I will look forward to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tony Award Nominees!

OK, and now the actual nominees:

In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play
Next Fall
Time Stands Still
Hey, I got one! I did think I'd get Behanding in Spokane as well, but obviously, I was wrong.

American Idiot
Million Dollar Quartet
And here I got two! I should've gone with Memphis, at the very least. The Addams Family was not very loved, after all.

Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View from the Bridge
Lend Me a Tenor got in instead of The Miracle Worker; I kind of thought it might.

Finian's Rainbow
La Cage Aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Oh my God, they remembered Ragtime? Didn't that show close prematurely or something? This is awesome!

Jude Law, Hamlet
Alfred Molina, Red
Liev Schreiber, A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington, Fences
I guess one could make the argument that they're all movie stars...but one could hardly call Molina and Schreiber screen idols. They just happen to do films in between stage performances.

Viola Davis, Fences
Valerie Harper, Looped
Linda Lavin, Collected Stories
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family

Kesley Grammar, La Cage Aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge, La Cage Aux Folles
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!
See? Everyone I thought would get in did get in! Except for Nathan Lane. I really overestimated how much they'd like that show.

Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music
I haven't even heard of Everyday Rapture, but I did hear Sherie Rene Scott was in a musical this year. Oscar Winner Zeta-Jones must be overjoyed right now, though surely this nom was a given?

David Alan Grier, Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken, Enron
Eddie Redmayne, Red
And all I can think is that Julianne Moore's son from Savage Grace is a Tony Nominee.

Maria Dizzia, In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play
Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht, A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor
Ms. Maxwell, you've been a busy gal this year! I hope Scarlett's nom gives her detractors pause; the woman is a glorious actress, and now she's got a Tony nomination!

Kevin Chamberlain, The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus, La Cage Aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime
Chamberlain got in! I am really excited that two shows that closed early, Finian's Rainbow and Ragtime, are doing so well.

Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lillias White, Fela!

Everyday Rapture
Million Dollar Quartet

The Addams Family
Fences and Enron, two straight plays, have nominations for score? Have things changed that much? Perhaps the increase of jukebox musicals and the rise of scoring straight plays (these aren't movies, people) called for drastic measures. Le sigh.

Michael Grandage, Red
Sheryl Kaller, Next Fall
Kenny Leon, Fences
Gregory Mosher, A View from the Bridge

Christopher Ashley, Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime
Terry Johnson, La Cage Aux Folles
Bill T. Jones, Fela!

Last-Minute Tony Predix

I'm not looking at the Tony noms yet. Too nervous. I love the Tonys, and I never miss a show. Last year, I came back from set and watched the proceedings go down alone in my room, with a can of Dr Pepper my only company. This year, I plan on doing more or less the same thing.

My quick and dirty predix, the day of the noms. These are not based on anything I hear or follow, just random choosing. Incomplete, too, since my knowledge of the theatre world has significantly decreased since drama classes in high school:

A Behanding in Spokane
Superior Donuts
Time Stands Still

The Addams Family
American Idiot
Come Fly Away

The Royal Family
The Miracle Worker
A View from the Bridge

La Cage aux Folles
Finian's Rainbow
A Little Night Music
Promises, Promises

Daniel Craig, A Steady Rain
Liev Schreiber, A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington, Fences

Viola Davis, Fences
Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking
Valerie Harper, Looped
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still

Kelsey Grammar, La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimbel, Memphis
Nathan Lane, The Addams Family
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!

Bebe Neuwirth, The Addams Family
Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music

Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
Alicia Silverstone, Time Stands Still

Jackie Hoffman, The Addams Family
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music

Kevin Chamberlain, The Addams Family

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chloe Sucks, Avoid It

I haven't written a proper review of Chloe because it's too goddamn boring and middle-of-the-road to do so. Hot sex scenes, fine Julianne Moore performance, Liam Neeson's eyes express everything. There you go. That's all you're getting. I saw it months ago, but time is not the issue here. It's desperately dull, darlings, desperately dull.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Best Picture Smackdown!

Andrew and I are just two of the participants in The Final Oscar: Best Picture Smackdown. Check it out as we discuss the merits (and demerits) of the Best Picture nominees of 2008! I'm rooting for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, one of the all-time best movies I've had the pleasure of seeing. Do I win, or do the "meh" attitudes still prevail? See for yourself!