Saturday, June 26, 2010

You're lovely, absolutely lovely...

Two years ago, when I had a Livejournal, I submitted a list of Ten Celebrity Crushes of the moment. It was one of those memes going around, and everyone else focused on the menfolks, so I thought I had to contribute a little something something. Well, two years is a long time, with new fixations and surprise crushes springing up. So while it used to look like this:

1. Drew Barrymore
2. Meryl Streep
3. Jenna Fischer
4. Maggie Gyllenhaal
5. Miley Cyrus
6. Joan Allen
7. Julianne Moore
8. Laura Linney
9. Helen Mirren
10. Allison Janney may have changed substantially. For instance, it's been a while since I've loved Janney or Mirren in something, though I always look forward to their work. I mean, all these ladies will always be adored by me, but what Hollywood beauties have been haunting my dreams lately? Take a look:

10. Nancy Olson
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Sunset Blvd)
Purely because of Sunset Blvd. I don't think I've seen her in anything else, actually. But listening to ALW's "Too Much in Love to Care" and picturing Miss Olson singing it should be enough to do anybody in.

9. Kristen Stewart
Oh, I did not expect this, either. Then The Runaways came out and showed me that, hey, this girl can actually act! She's always kind of fallen into the trap of using her tics, but when she has a director willing to get a real performance out of her (Into the Wild), she's fantastic. And adorable. And I am totally going to the midnight of Eclipse.

8. Penelope Cruz
Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Nominee for Best Actress (Volver) and Best Supporting Actress (Nine)
When I first saw her in Gothika, I thought to myself, "Wow, why does everyone hate her? She's easily the best thing about this movie." For yes, there was a time when no one liked Penelope Cruz and thought her talentless. With an Oscar win and two additional nominations under her belt, she's hushed her critics. She's got a body that won't quit and an unusual beauty that is instantly bewitching.

7. Laura Linney
Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Nanny Diaries)
Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (You Can Count On Me, The Savages) and Best Supporting Actress (Kinsey)
Can you believe she used to be one my least favorite actresses? Oh, the folly of youth! I don't get Showtime, so I'll have to find some other way to catch The Big C. When the hell is she going to win an Oscar? Or even a Tony? Anyway, she's a sophisticated kind of pretty, a high-class beauty, and clearly a smart woman. I like brains. Maybe not like zombies do, but I like them nonetheless.

6. Maggie Gyllenhaal
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Crazy Heart)
Sad though it may be that her least performance got her an Oscar nod, I still love Maggie. She seems like a feisty gal, one comfortable with her sexuality, yet equally comfortable in a Barnes & Noble cafe, know what I mean? That voice, too. That voice...

5. Julianne Moore
Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (A Single Man)
Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven) and Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights, The Hours)
Boy, she's moved up a bit, hasn't she? Is it her performance in A Single Man? The anticipation of The Kids Are All Right? Certain sequences in Chloe? She only grows more beautiful with each passing year.

4. Jessica Biel
Now here's a face that could launch a thousand ships. She shows up on-screen with the kind of gumption that reminds me of early Ashley Judd. And she can sing: not only does she show off her chanteuse skills in Easy Virtue, but she may be appearing on Broadway in a musical version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, alongside Patti Lupone! Her additional assets also make her the living embodiment of Jessica Rabbit.

3. Glenn Close
Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons) and Best Supporting Actress (The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural)
I blame Damages. An attractive older woman with confidence, intelligence and independence? Sexy. Her eyes bedazzle and her singing haunts. That she's become, at 63, the go-to gal for ball-busters on TV is awesome. Like Linney, she just emits this aura of Class, doesn't she?

2. Meryl Streep
Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (A Prairie Home Companion) and Nominee for Best Actress (Julie & Julia)
Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Sophie's Choice) and Best Supporting Actress (Kramer vs. Kramer) and Nominee for Best Actress (The French Lieutenant's Woman, Silkwood, Out of Africa, Ironweed, A Cry in the Dark, Postcards from the Edge, The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing, Music of the Heart, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, Julie & Julia) and Best Supporting Actress (The Deer Hunter, Adaptation)
Naturally, the Top Two are unchanged. Meryl will always be beautiful, always be talented, always give good interview. She's simply the best. Actress, that is.

1. Drew Barrymore
Remember the time everyone finally listened to me and recognized Drew Barrymore for her acting ability? That was a great couple of weeks. So much to admire about her: her bubbly demeanor, her openness to trying new things, her work ethic, the fact that she bounced back from a problematic childhood. A beautiful woman, inside and out, Drew will always be Number One.

Raising Caine

Five sentences for three films:

Harry Brown
Michael Caine gives a grade-A performance in this beautifully-lit though slow-paced social thriller that wants to make a Statement about the Way of Things while still retaining B-movie vigilante qualities. It doesn't always work, but certain sequences, like Harry's encounter with the drug dealer Slim (a mercilessly icky Sean Harris) just sing to the high Heavens with superbity. An original song plays over the credits, which is a little amusing, but cannot distract from seeing Caine dole out some street justice (not to be confused with Streep Justice). I'm amazed at how serious it is, and how determined director Daniel Barber is to stick with that vision of gritty realism. A dreary third-act twist, though hinted at before, keeps it at a three-star status instead of three and one-half.

A Prophet
True, the point of the title is really only used once, and almost randomly at that, but there is no doubt that Jacques Audiard has made quite the masterpiece, a prison movie, a gangster epic, a character piece with supernatural elements, and all mixed together seamlessly and beautifully. Everyone we meet, however briefly, is fully developed and completely individual: Hichem Yacoubi is one of cinema's greatest ghosts, and Niels Arestrup is scary and pathetic as the Corsican mobster who runs the prison from the inside. Protagonist Tahar Rahim, though, is a marvel to watch, and the transformation from naive innocent to ruthless gangster is one that sneaks up on you, so subtle and fluid is that arc. Hollmann Award Winner Alexandre Desplat (who has also been nominated four other times) contributes a wonderfully humble score, too.

More jokes hit than miss. If there's anything holding the movie back, it may be Will Forte's hamming it up, which clashes somewhat with Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer and Kristen Wiig, all of whom play it straight. It works much of the time -- dick jokes, copy toner lube, and the history of MacGruber and villain Cunth are great highlights (all crass, all hilarious) -- but in the end you know you won't remember this movie in two years. Still, you could probably keep this on as you do laundry. Can  we let Phillippe do more comedies, by the way?

Good Night, Great 'Knight'

Ooh, Knight and Day felt so good going down. Tasted like a refreshing Dr Pepper as it washes down the deliciousness of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (this is my favorite meal at my favorite restaurant -- seriously).

I'm always  ready to watch Mr. Tom Cruise, ever since junior year of high school when Ms. Walz pointed out the subtleties and nuances of his performances. Saw Mission: Impossible III and Magnolia and immediately knew that I was going to be a lifelong fan. Knight and Day serves as a reminder that Cruise is dedicated to always keeping the audience entertained without compromising the film or the character. Some people ham it up, but Cruise knows what works. Here, he's riffing on his action persona by playing it lighter. Refreshingly, though, he never winks at the audience, never plays it as Tom Cruise having fun in a ridiculous action movie. This really is Roy Miller, and he really is an awesome secret agent who may or may not be a little unhinged. Me, I love that.

Look, I'll always have time for the self-aware ridiculousness of The A-Team, but I'm glad we at least get one action-comedy that's not both a postmodern deconstruction of the genre and a celebration of violence. It's been fun for a while to see Shoot 'Em Up and G.I. Joe and bask in their cartoonish indulgences. And I truly appreciate the more serious approaches of Casino Royale, the aforementioned Mission: Impossible III, and the masterful The Dark Knight. But seeing a movie that refuses to wink, yet refuses to be serious? Rare, especially when they manage to make it work.

The "they" in this case: director James Mangold, who balances this tricky tone quite ably. Writer Patrick O'Neill, who, thank the Lord, managed to craft a female lead that does more than just squeal about the unpleasantness of the situation. Now, does she squeal and handle a gun poorly? At first, yes. But she brings a lot to the table, believably holds her own against the agents attacking and protecting her, and eventually becomes a great heroine. And she's not one of those crazy I NEED TO GET MARRIED WAHHHH heroines, either. So, okay, thank you Patrick O'Neill for writing her, and thank you Cameron Diaz for playing her so magnificently. Sometimes I forget how much I like you, and then Knight and Day comes out and I'm on Team Diaz all over again.

Now, my roommate didn't think the editors let the dramatic beats breathe enough, but I didn't notice that. What I did notice, however, was that Quincy Z. Gunderson and Michael McCusker actually let me see what was happening! No quick cuts, no thousand and one inserts of whatever; actual action sequences that one could follow! I knew who was winning! I knew who was losing! I was aware of where everyone was in relation to everyone else! What's sad is how rare that's become, that I have to single out the fact that the audience can follow what the characters are doing. But I love it!

The supporting players are an able team of character actors. Peter Sarsgaard is the agent tracking them down, Jordi Molla is an arms dealer hunting them down, Viola Davis is the head of the agency, and Paul Dano is the key to the whole thing. Maggie Grace and Celia Weston also make brief appearances, with Weston reminding us in a single scene why we love her so dearly. Dano, by the way, plays the role of young genius fantastically, a little unhinged, a little naive, a lot fascinating. We don't get to spend much time with them, of course, because it's all about Cruise and Diaz, but at least they didn't skimp on giving us interesting characters and great actors to play them.

Y'all know I love me movie scores. John Powell does a fine job here, making especially great use of the accordion. Let me mention how much I love the accordion: a lot. I think that instrument classes up a score like no one's business. Think of Amelie or Gosford Park; hell, think of the disastrous Tony Randall film The Alphabet Murders, where the only thing you can recommend is the accordion-heavy score by Ron Goodwin. It's a great instrument, too often used only used to let Americans know the characters are in France. I've certainly never heard it used to such great effect in an action film before, but Powell delivers.

It's not a perfect movie, no. I but Diaz as a chick who knows cars, yet I don't buy her as a mechanic. And the green screen effects were a little disappointing for a movie of this caliber. And though I liked most of what cinematographer Phedon Papamichael gave us, I did find some of his lighting choices questionable and unmotivated. But overall? A great ride, one that I truly adored.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Punchy, Bleary, Fresh Out of Magic -- AND ALIVE!

Sorry I've been away for so long. I just served as Director of Photography on a film I co-wrote with my roommate. A detective story set in a retirement home, it's a project we've been talking about since Summer 2007, and we're just so effing excited that we got to do it for our thesis film. Of course, I myself have three more films to work on in other capacities after this, but for tonight, it just feels good to have completed production on a movie I wrote and shot.

And yet, I still found time to go to the movies twice!

Toy Story 3 is fantastic, first of all. It's a little short, so that there's little time to develop the large ensemble Michael Arndt and the Pixar team have created. That's a shame, too, because I'd love to get to know Mr. Pricklepants, Dolly and Stretch a little more. Neat thing, though: that's barely even a drawback. The film succeeds as both the end of a franchise and a transition between generations. There is a devastating and beautiful moment at the end involving hand-holding, and you could hear the audience trying to stifle the tears. This movie gets it, and for those of us who are still a little attached to our childhood toys, it's a touching reminder of what these "things" actually represent to us.

Also, Ned Beatty rocks. Not to short shrift the rest of the cast, of course, but don't we already know that the main ensemble is amazing? Joan Cusack, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn: great, great, great! Michael Keaton's Ken, also, is a work of genius. And can we please give cinematography Oscar noms to animated films? Or, I don't know, something to honor the lighting? It's too real. Add to that a great score by Randy Newman, and we have ourselves a fantastic, if too short, film for all ages.

Compare this to Jonah Hex, which was awful. I barely remember it at all, and I just saw it less than twenty-three hours ago. Michael Fassbender seems to be the only one who knows what tone to go for. Not just among the actors, either: the director, cinematographer, editor, colorist, VFX techies, even Marco Beltrami! Nobody knew what the hell was going on, clearly. I wasn't even angry. I just wondered why anyone bothered financing this, why anyone put this into theaters, why I actually paid to see it. I turned around at one point and said to my roomie, "My God, it's a TV pilot." That's what it plays like: A short introduction to the characters we'll be following throughout the series. On SyFy.

What I'm saying is, Jonah Hex sucks, Toy Story 3 rules, and I deserve a break.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"If You Even Existed, I'd Divorce You"

Every now and then, esteemed blogger Andrew K. at Encore Entertainment hosts a casting session at the official LAMB site. We've previously recast Doubt and The Color Purple, and now the results are in for a new spin on an old favorite: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Some intriguing suggestions are made, such as Alan Rickman for George, Amy Adams for Honey, and Lisa Kudrow for Martha. My own input is ripped directly from my Casting Coup of yesteryear: Harden, Greenwood, Reynolds, Garai. But do check out all the choices, as well as the one voted by us as the One We'd Most Like to See.

(Although, looking at these and thinking about them Glenn Close?)

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I can skip the BFCAs. And I've missed the Globes without missing them. And I watched The Pregnancy Pact instead of the SAG Awards earlier this year. But the Oscars and the Tonys? That shit, I take seriously. So I was horrified when I finally arrived home an hour late! Fortunately, I had already learned (and tweeted about) the WHOA win by Scarlett Johansson for Featured Actress in a Play (A View from the Bridge), and The Film Experience kept me updated as to Eddie Redmayne's win for Featured Actor in a Play (Red).

It's time I start putting money on these, man. Out of the 16 categories that I tried to predict winners for (not here, but to my friends in the real world), I managed to nail 13 (or roughly 75%)! I rarely do so well on my Oscar predix (I only got 17 out of 24 this year...actually, I guess that's close: 70.8%). Johansson and Redmayne were among the surprises, but let's see what else made me go "wha??" and what made me go "mm-HM".

Full winners here.

Called it. Can't they elect someone to speak for all if/when they win? There's never enough time for anyone to say what they want to say.

Called it. Up against a dance show, a concept album, and an atypical jukebox musical, the original Memphis was the one that had to win. Same problem as the above with acceptance speeches, though.

Called it.

La Cage aux Folles
Called it. And why did they even nominate anything else?

Viola Davis, Fences
Called it. Actually, I leaped around the office saying, "Viola's getting a Tony tonight!"

Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music
WHOA! Clearly, she thought so, too. Got all Bullock-y up there, and I loved it. I love it when the stars lose themselves. Predicted Montego Glover for Memphis.

Denzel Washington, Fences
Called it. He should probably find out who the hell is about to honor him before he goes to awards shows.

Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Called it.

Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
 You ever predict something because you allow yourself one category you know will be wrong? Well, I did predict this, but it still shocked and elated me when she won!

Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Called it. Either her or Angela, but I'd heard more people singing her praises. So, naturally.

Eddie Redmayne, Red
Surprised. Thought this was going to be a Fences night with Stephen McKinley Henderson honored.

Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Surprised. Thought Robin de Jesus in La Cage. Silly me, I had heard lots of positive things about Million Dollar Quartet!

Michael Grandage, Red
Didn't call this...but that's because I didn't actually try to predict this category, for some reason.

Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles
Called it. Who didn't? I kept hearing his La Cage was the best La Cage.

Bill T. Jones, Fela!
A surprise to me. I did think Twyla Tharp would get it for Come Fly Away. Not based on much except that I knew the name. The first time I saw anything from either show was tonight.

Take a Lesson: That's How You Make a Movie!

The biggest surprise of the year (so far)! I had been hearing good things about The Karate Kid, and I've always liked Taraji P. Henson and Jackie Chan. So this piqued my interest enough that I wanted to see it, but I was still skeptical about a few things. First was the running time; at 2 hours 20 minutes, it's nearly epic-length, something that I don't feel is necessary with family films. Second: Jaden Smith, whose presence at the Oscars a couple of years ago filled me with rage. It seemed that he had inherited his father's charisma, yes, but also the obsession with maintaining that likability no matter what. And that can sometimes be annoying. I wondered, too, if the boy was genuinely talented, or if his famous daddy just insisted that his offspring be a movie star too.

Sure enough, about ten minutes in, I wondered to myself, "Is this kid ever going to change his expression?" To be fair, this was a good question to ask of all the kid actors up to this point, from Blonde Kid Who Disappears After Three Scenes to the love interest. Jaden could do charm, though, as we see in his initial flirtations with classmate Meiying (Wenwen Han), or in his banter with his hot mom (Taraji P. Henson, who proves yet again that she can do no wrong). It seemed my greatest fear was to be realized. This was a processed charmer, courtesy the Will Smith Corporation.

I don't know when it was, exactly, that I suddenly realized the greatness of the film. Was it when Jackie Chan gets the bullies to beat each other up? Was it the field trip to the Forbidden City? Could it have been when Jaden and Meiying flirted in the auditorium as she practiced her violin? I don't know, all I know is that there was a definite moment where I thought, "Actually, this kid's pretty good! Boy's got potential, and seems willing to grow. I get it!" And that soon developed, with the introduction of kung fu lessons with maintenance man Mr. Han (Chan), into a full-on love and admiration for everything about the film and its stars. Smith has to play the role one-dimensionally at the beginning, because his character is merely going through the motions as he tries to navigate this new life in China! And of course he comes alive in his scenes with Meiying, because that's when the character comes alive! Why did I underestimate the scion of the Fresh Prince clan?

So, yeah, the story. Dre and his mother move from Detroit to China after she gets a job transfer. Dre has a hard time fitting in, especially once a school bully, whom I shall from now on refer to as Little Satan (Zhenwei Wang), targets him for a punching bag. Tired of being bullied, Dre enlists the help of Mr. Han to teach him kung fu. He soon learns that kung fu is not about kicking ass, but about "making peace with your enemies". While delivering flying kicks, yes, but the spirituality of the sport is not lost on Dre or the audience. Dre learns respect for his elders, respect for his peers, and respect for his new home as Han trains him to take part in the Kung Fu Tournament that serves as the film's climax. Cool.

So very, very, cool. This is a movie that had the audience applauding, laughing, high-fiving each other across rows, sitting on the edges of their seats, wiping tears from their eyes. The movie just has it all, from capable kid actors (well, except for the "best friend" role that is quickly dropped from the story; worst kid actor ever) to a Dancing Arcade Game scene. Jackie Chan's moving performance as Mr. Han is the best of his Western career (admittedly, I've yet to see his original martial arts films), especially in a touching scene involving his car, June 8, and a message of getting back on your feet.

Those who feared that this would be an East vs. West, USA USA USA film can put those concerns to rest. The Karate Kid is more about an American learning to appreciate a culture different from the one he's used to, learning the language, customs and traditions of his new home. The climactic showdown between Dre and Little Satan is not about East vs. West, but about Good vs. Evil. I won't even tell you whether or not Dre wins. You may think this movie is predictable, but it takes some unexpected turns that make it fairly atypical.

At one point, I turned to my friend and muttered, "David Lean's The Karate Kid." This movie doesn't do things by halves. James Horner's score is his first of note since A Beautiful Mind (Sure, I like Avatar's score, but it mostly sounds like a riff on Titanic's), and it is an epic marvel. Roger Pratt's cinematography is ingenious. Sometimes hand-held, certainly low-key in the home sequences, it naturally gives us that widescreen "whoa" factor when Dre visits the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of the Dragon Well. The night scenes are gorgeous, and the "first kiss" scene is beautifully done, superlatively lit, effectively edited by Joel Negron.

My God, and I could follow the action scenes! And it doesn't over-explain things! And there's chemistry and believable/consistent character arcs! The worst part is probably the title, actually, since every character insists on the difference between kung fu and karate. Strange, that. But, hey, whatever: the movie's brilliant! Kudos to director Harald Zwart and his team on creating an epic and sincere, family-friendly, universally delightful cinematic wowser!

Why are you reading this? Take ten dollars out of your wallet and see this movie NOW!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Casting Coup Tuesdays Return!

Casting Coup Tuesdays are finally coming back!

July 6
TV: Cheers
With The A-Team out now (and awesome, at that!), I wonder what other 80s television show could be reimagined into a film?

July 13
Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Casting is underway for the American remake. My dream list, based on my seeing the original film (and not having read the book). 

July 20
Literature: Miss Lonelyhearts
A follow-up to my CCT of The Day of the Locust. Based on Nathanael West's other novel, the original film from 1953 was Maureen Stapleton's first film...and her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress!

July 27
Theatre: Sunset Boulevard
The musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This Team Gets an A!

There are two chief flaws in Joe Carnahan's cinematic remake of the TV series The A-Team.

One is the editing/cinematography of some action sequences. Oftentimes, it wasn't until the last punch was thrown that I would finally figure out who was winning or what was happening. I hope they eventually stop editing action movies like this, because it really pisses me off. Shouldn't I be able to enjoy the action in an action movie? And the murky cinematography of some of these sequences is no help, either. It's strange because this isn't a big problem throughout most of the film, but as soon as the adrenaline starts running, the picture suddenly gets all blurred and bizarre. Weird.

The second is the way they've padded out the running time by going back to some scenes to remind us of information we didn't need reminding of. OK, so Bradley Cooper gives Jessica Biel a phone. He tells her to hold on to the phone. Five minutes later, she's in her office, and the phone rings. She looks at it...and we flash back to the scene where he says, "Hold on to that phone." Really? Did you really think the audience was going to think, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, where'd that phone come from?" Really strange and condescending choice, that.

These two problems stick out because the movie is just SO GOOD. After seeing Splice last night, it was a surprise to see that the more negatively-reviewed action flick -- one that I saw because I just wanted brainless action that "specializes in the ridiculous" -- was the more consistent and together one. The characters were all distinct and consistent! The music serviced the story! There were actual arcs that were believable! Yes, believable character arcs in what very well might as be Macho Posturing: The Movie!

I can never fault a film for being consistent and knowing what it is. Half the problem with the movies this year is that they don't know what they want to be, even the ones I like (The Runaways, Get Him to the Greek, Alice in Wonderland). The A-Team has no such problem. Everything is big and broad, but consistently so, and it within the universe it creates for itself, everyone's behavior makes sense. It's outrageous and audacious, especially with the pro-violence message that, according to Mr. T, is completely at odds with the original series.

What's refreshing is that everyone seems to be having a good time. I don't just mean the actors are having fun picking up a paycheck and and firing weapons; I mean the characters themselves are having fun. The chemistry between the four leads carries the film. Liam Neeson is both a solid action hero and a reassuring father figure. Bradley Cooper is always great with the one-liners, while Rampage Jackson has a great screen presence. Also, he's a big teddy bear. Sharlto Copley, the star of District 9, almost manages to steal the show as crazy Murdock, oddly convincing with his perfect redneck accent and crazy eyes. Yet no one really stands out from the pack, because all of them are very giving co-stars, never upstaging each other, always working as a team.

Jessica Biel is fine, though she's given the leats to work with. This movie doesn't care about women...though considering this, Biel's character never has to be saved, remaining a strong female protagonist and sometimes threat; it's just the romantic subplot with Cooper doesn't always make sense. Patrick Wilson's CIA agent is deliciously wonderful, playing the maybe-he-is-maybe-he-isn't villain as an overgrown fratboy hilariously, though still convincingly a threat. Co-writer Brian Bloom appears as another villain, and the greatest shame of all is that he doesn't get more screen time. The guy's tops.

I totally recommend this movie. The script really doesn't make a lick of sense, and the editing is sometimes awful, but the cast absolutely sells it! A welcome relief after last night's mistake.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Three Quickies

Felt like an old-school psychological thriller. Everyone's in on the joke (though it's a serious joke), and it's a delight to watch the large ensemble play off of each other. The music, non-original, but culled from many sources, is haunting and effective. There are two moments that jar me out of the film, and they are the same moments from the book: the talk with the Warden, and line during the finale. You'll know it, I'm sure, when you hear it. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure this is one of Leonardo DiCaprio's best performances, and for once, I cannot fault Thelma Schoonmaker. A beautifully atmospheric novel has been slavishly adapted...and it doesn't bug me at all! In fact, I absolutely love it. Michelle Williams, Ben Kingsley and Jackie Earle Haley also impress, and I love the ambiguity of the end.

This Australian noir from the Brothers Edgerton is a quiet, unpretentious, impressive little thriller. There's maybe one moment that doesn't work perfectly, and is a bit of a throwaway...or perhaps foreshadowing. But I like it, I really do. The lead performance by David Roberts is great -- you know this guy, and you even kind of root for him despite the awfulness of his decisions. Everyone in the cast works brilliantly and believably, though one does wonder how Roberts' character met the mistress that sets the plot in motion. And what a plot it is! Sometimes, I love going into movies without knowing anything about them other than the title! In this case, it was quite rewarding.

Great fun. Dismissable, perhaps, but still a good time at the movies. A fine adventure film with the charming Jake Gyllenhaal, the dastardly Ben Kingsley (awesome in this), and the hilarious Alfred Molina. I feel like it's not a great movie, given the amount of eyerolling moments and ludicrous plot, but I would buy the shit out of this movie and show it to my kids and friends and everyone again and again. I will say this, though: is Gemma Arterton ever going to act?

I Hate You, Splice

Splice is a very uneven movie. It starts out promisingly enough, with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as kick-ass (or, as most reviews call them, rock star) geneticists who are so awesome, they made the cover of Wired. And as Sarah Polley says, "Losers don't make the cover of Wired." Bam. They're splicing genes together to make new species that will hopefully develop a protein that can be used to do something amazing with livestock, and if they can continue with their research...maybe cure human ailments too! They secretly develop a human/animal hybrid that evolves rapidly, and the movie centers on their raising this thing and the eventual problems that arise. Evil, horrifying problems.

And it's so incredibly stupid. So fucking dumb. The beginning is so great, and the first encounter with the baby creature, eventually known as Dren, is genuinely suspenseful and terrifying. I expected it to be a movie that served as a metaphor for parenting, and it certainly is...albeit a strange, inconsistent, retarded metaphor. Webster tells me that retarded means "slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress". Therefore, my word choice is apt, for this view of child-rearing and parental jealousy and Daddy Issues and Mommy Issues, despite being written by a 40-year-old, seems to have ceased its own development during a pot-influenced conversation where every idea seems profound because you're leaning forward importantly and squinting. It is SO DUMB.

Beware, now, for spoilers lie ahead. Some of this was spoiled for me prior to my showing, and the events still took me off guard. Why? Because of the insane leaps in logic and character motivation.

Really, though, the first twenty minutes are pretty neat. I think it was when they named her that I first got worried. She spells the word Nerd using Scrabble tiles. Sarah Polley looks at it from the other side, where it spells Dren, only with the letters all upside-down and backwards and bim-bam-boom it's got a name. After this scene, it slowly starts to get more and more ridiculous. At one point, Dren spells out "tedious" with the Scrabble tiles, and boy is she right. What began as a promising, Cronenberg-esque horror with potential for actual insight becomes a sub-Freudian mess. All character motivations become hazy and illogical, as though the director told his actors to play one emotion at a time.

"No, dammit, we don't need anything like motivation, just be maternal in this scene! Okay, now you're cold-blooded! What do you mean why? It's a comment on how we become our parents! And sometimes, we wanna fuck them! It's deep, man, it's Freud! It's intellectual! Pass the bowl."

Who could like this movie? Who? Certainly not the audience I was with, who right after the Dren naming scene all banded together to mock the film. We almost high-fived each other, with one girl claiming that, were it not for my roommate and I, she would've fallen asleep and wasted her ticket.

Sarah Polley is head-slappingly uneven. Adrien Brody actually seems to be trying, but then it just made me wonder if he thought this script was profound, so then he began to irritate me. Everyone reads their lines like they're lines. Every single person is ACTING, but it never seems intentional. The only person I believed was Simona Maicanescu as the Frenchwoman funding the splicing research. She alone sounded like a real human being, give or take a scene or three with Polley and Brody.

The score was good, at least. It just boggles my mind that this thing has a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. I can't believe the critics that think this is a smart, well-acted, finally-something-for-adults horror film. Are they so desperate for "adult" horror fare that they'll accept anything that doesn't rely on jump scares? Admirable, yes, but it takes more than that to make a good horror movie.

Perhaps Final Girl, who I love and adore and who you all should read, put it best:

"By the time the horror actually happens, I was deeply ensconced in disappointment...This film wants you to think there's something going on below the pretty surface, but there ain't much beyond some CGI-laden soap opera drama."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rue McClanahan (1934 - 2010)

Rue McClanahan passed away at 1 a.m. this morning after a stroke. She was 76.

When I read earlier this year about her being hospitalized after "a minor stroke", I prepared myself for this. But the news is still tragic, and as corny as it pains me to hear this. It was only recently that I had begun to appreciate her non-Blanche work: Nunsense, Maude, numerous guest spots on television shows, supporting roles in feature films, and -- most notably -- the blind, burnt biology teacher in Starship Troopers. She was a funny woman, a class act, immensely talented. She will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Consider My Expectations Adjusted

This movie does not show up at all in my 25 Most Anticipated of 2010. I made that list before they put out this trailer, this amazing trailer, this beautiful and mesmerizing trailer. Seriously, I have not been this moved and transfixed by a mere trailer since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That's actually pretty appropriate, seeing this movie also appears to be taking one idea from a short story and using it to tell an against-all-odds love story between a well-dressed blond and a dancer.

Pic stars Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp, John Slattery, Daniel Dae Kim and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Written and directed by George Nolfi (Ocean's Twelve, The Bourne Ultimatum).