I'm hooked, ok?
Friday, December 23, 2011
I'm hooked, ok?
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
- Out Now With Aaron and Abe: Episode 38 - The Artist with Aaron Neuwirth, Mark Hobin, Alan Aguilera, and myself.
- My new piece for Movie Smackdown! on Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
New reviews of some 2011 heavy-hitters coming soon.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Now, don’t get me wrong, there really aren’t many drawbacks to making biopics. Studios love them because they’re usually able to get a big name actor to play whichever historical figure’s on the docket, stand a very good chance at making some dough, and might get some hardware. Actors love them because if they prove to be particularly good at mimicry, wearing that prosthetic nose, and bringing that historical figure to life, they stand a good chance of gaining a ton of critical recognition and, yes, getting some hardware. Audiences love them because they usually get to enjoy a rags-to-riches story and have the opportunity to feel better about all of the times they fell asleep in high school when they were supposed to be learning about these folks in the first place.
2011, in particular, has so many biopics as to inspire washed-up conspiracy theorists everywhere to come out of retirement. Initially, My Week With Marilyn wasn’t something I was particularly enthusiastic about, particularly when compared to something like J. Edgar, The Iron Lady, or A Dangerous Method. But, as fate would have it, it was the first that I had the chance to see and, for whatever reason, I got pretty excited about seeing it. I think I unexpectedly fell a little bit in love with Michelle Williams after seeing the adverts so many times.
My Week With Marilyn tells the story of Colin Clark, a 24 year old British aristocrat with a dream of working in the movie business. After working his connections, he becomes third assistant director on the set of Laurence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl, a starring vehicle for Sir Laurence and Marilyn Monroe. When Marilyn starts to crumble underneath pressures both personal and professional, she and Colin form an unlikely connection and spend a bit of a “lost week” together.
As promising as that sounds, it seems to me that the primary thing that holds the film back is that it's told from the perspective of the young man, Colin, instead of the movie star, Marilyn. I think that it would have been much more effective and infinitely more interesting to have been able to start with her, stay with her, and see exactly what made her tick and what caused her idiosyncrasies.
To that end, while watching the film, there were a ton of times that I really wanted to get some sense of what exactly was in her head. There are moments when she seems so lost and so overwhelmed, and then there are others in which she seems to be in complete control of her image. I wish there had been some dot connectors to point out where the woman ended and the movie star began.
For what she was given, Michelle Williams (who's sure to get a ton of award nominations and maybe a few statuettes) is really good. While she’s a terrific choice to play the actress formerly known as Norma Jeane Baker, sadly, I don’t think the script fully equips her to bring her complete set of talents to bear. It’s not Williams being inconsistent so much as it’s Simon Curtis’ script that’s incomplete.
As for Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Colin Clark, it’s solid, but the half-baked script holds him back too. At the beginning of the film, he seemed to be a bit of a greenback. You know, means well but doesn’t have a lot of practical life or work experience? Well, the kid decides to park his keister on the couch of Olivier’s production company’s office until he’s given some kind of job to do. Good, right? Shows initiative. But when he’s finally given a task by the film producer, he handles it, we’re led to believe, without any problems at all. Uh, hello! He was asked to get NOEL COWARD’s number, which, I might add, he’s told is unlisted. That’s no small thing. How about a moment a la Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada? It’s a real chance to gain more insight into his character. How does he get stuff like that done? While we see him get them into Windsor Castle later through a family connection, we have no idea how he gets that pesky number. Did he rely on another connection? Did he struggle before finally getting it done? Was he really just that good? I’d have liked to have seen that process outlined rather than being given “BOOM, it’s done!” as an answer.
I get it. Boy meets movie star. Boy falls hopelessly in love with movie star. On that level, his performance is very effective, but, as with Williams', more was needed. I know that the scene I’ve described might seem petty and inconsequential in the big picture, but it would have contributed significantly to fleshing out his character and making him that much more three-dimensional instead of relying on such a simplistic character outline.
The rest of the cast is uniformly solid, with particular props going to a scene-stealing Kenneth Branagh as Lawrence Olivier. He’s fantastic, and I hope he gets some much-deserved love at year’s-end. Judi Dench is really good too, and has a wonderful line about how much mascara a woman should wear. However, the one person that completely surprised me was Dougray Scott. It struck me that the guy playing Arthur Miller was really believable, but I had no idea whatsoever that it was Scott until the end credits. Seeing Julia Ormond (one of my favorites!) pop up as Vivien Leigh was a nice surprise too. After The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Temple Grandin, and The Music Never Stopped, it seems like she’s back.
Lastly, I think My Week With Marilyn ends one (or two, if you count the end credit musical sequence) scene too late. There’s a wonderful shot of Colin staring at a blank movie screen in a small theater that seemed announced itself as the film’s final shot . . . and then things continued with a bit that’s supposed to tie things off in a knot when I think, ironically, a messier approach would have served the film better. By that point, by all intents and purposes, the film was done, and to try and spell everything out was the wrong choice.
It’s really too bad. While My Week With Marilyn isn’t a bad film and certainly isn’t unenjoyable by any stretch, a real opportunity’s been missed here. It strikes me as a bit odd that we’ve got a definitive look at the formation of Facebook on the books, but there’s no authoritative piece on the life of one of the cinema’s biggest stars.
There’s a wonderful scene in the middle of the picture. Colin is sent to a much-the-worse-for-wear Marilyn’s dressing room to find out what’s keeping her from the set. He gets starstruck, and ends up revealing that one of his jobs is, essentially, to spy on her. A bleary-eyed Marilyn looks up at him and asks, “Colin, whose side are you on?” He looks back at her, eyes wide with a heart no longer his own, and says, “Yours, Miss Monroe.” I only wish that My Week With Marilyn had been able to say the same thing.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Well, friends, it has been a while, hasn’t it? The past few months have seen me quite busy in some respects and quite lacking in the blogging persuasion in a lot of others. In a simple man’s English, I’ve had stuff on my plate, but have been mostly more complacent than I care to admit.
However! There are some new developments that you need to know about, aside from my usual recommitment to a newfound undying enthusiasm to blog and blog and blog.
I’m now a contributor to Movie Smackdown!, a site with the unique predisposition to put a new flick in the ring with an “old” one to see which is better. You know, essentially reviewing two movies at once. It’s an interesting challenge, and I’m grateful to be on board. Currently, you can find my pieces on Puss In Boots and Immortals on the site, with more to come. I’ll be sure to post links to any new Smacks here as well, and would be most grateful for any reading, commenting, rating, and sharing you feel up to.
Also, over the past several months, I’ve been fortunate enough to become a regular guest contributor to Out Now With Aaron and Abe, which, you might recall, was the podcast I guested on back in June to break down The Tree of Life. Currently, you can find our Art House/Indie Showcase 2011 Spectacular on the site, with a rich back catalog of podcasts to enjoy.
Enjoy, my droogs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a screening to get to.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Saturday, June 4, 2011
The Tree of Life tells the story of the lives of the O’Brien family in Waco, Texas in the 1950’s, that most misunderstood of modern American decades. Mr. & Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) have three boys and very different ideas about how to raise them. Mr. O’Brien clearly loves his family, but has no idea how to properly express it as a husband and father. He’s never done this before, and it’s heartbreakingly obvious. There are a number of times where he’s shown playing with his sons, but I think they’re already so resentful and/or scared of him that it’s too little, too late. At the same time, he’s undoubtedly a passionate person. He truly wants his children to learn the things that he felt he never did or learned too late, and his love of music is the most tangible of any of his expressions of love. While Mrs. O’Brien loves her children and is clearly their emotional center, I think they resent the fact that she lets her husband do what he wants without standing up for them. There’s only so much a person can stand of being told how much he/she is loved to his/her face without it being proved when it matters most.
While the family has five members, the narrative revolves mostly around Jack (Hunter McCracken/Sean Penn), the oldest son. His transformation is something that resonated with me. I can clearly remember the day that my internal life changed forever. Overnight, I went from being a carefree kid to an adolescent dealing with thoughts and emotions much too complicated for him. Like Jack, there was nothing I wanted more than to get back to where I’d been before, to somehow find a way to navigate myself back to the space I’d occupied where the only thing I had to worry about was whether or not I’d like what was being served for dinner. I was so desperate then. What no child ever realizes at first is that one cannot go back. There is no way to unlearn, barring illness or senility, what it is to be an adult and to have to deal with things heretofore relegated to the “grown up” and “mature.”
So much of the film is a conversation with god. Even as Jack is saying his nightly prayers, with the obligatory “make me a good boy” and so on, we hear his heart. “Where are you? Do you see me?” One of the most significant bits for me occurred when he says “I’m not going to try and be good. You aren’t.” As the universe is being born, we hear Mrs. O’Brien asking god why it has allowed evil to befall those who try to be righteous. That most ancient of questions. A preoccupation of some of the surviving members of the family is speaking with their deceased son/brother, and there’s an interesting malleability of names and subjects at work here. At times, it’s unclear if who’s being addressed is the dead boy or god itself.
The way that Terrence Malick and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, have shot the film is dazzling, even virtuosic. The camera (and, by extension, the film’s rhythm at times) is so fluid as to seem to be alive. It flies, swoops and swirls like a force of nature all its own. There are a half-dozen directors I’d like to make study Malick’s work here to learn how to create a sense of motion without cutting every 2 seconds. There are some gorgeous shots that make better use of a crane than just about anyone I’ve seen. The camera glides down hallways, often turning to look at the scenery with a mind all its own. But motion, endless motion, is what Malick seems to be striving for here.
It didn’t strike me until a little bit after the film was over, but the “dramatic” climax of the film occurs so early in the film as to sneak right past the viewer. It’s a few words spoken over the phone in an elevator that become a brief moment of connection in an attempt to rectify the past. It’s a rare moment of near-irony in a piece that exists almost completely in the absence of insincerity.
In The Tree of Life, fantasy and reality collide, the past, present, and future are interchangeable, and the inner lives of a few common people are expanded in bright, bold relief. Ultimately, Terrence Malick is using the lives of one family in Waco, Texas as a microcosm of the life and death of the universe itself. I know that it sounds incredibly pretentious to put it like that, but it’s true. People are born and they die, often for no discernable reason. What’s left is for the living to go on, treasuring the memories they have, picking up the pieces that are left, and making the most of every precious fragment that remains.
One of 2011's best films.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Friday, June 3, 2011
Unlike many, I’m the guy who’s enjoyed many of Woody Allen’s recent films. There’s a large number of folks, critics and regular janes alike, who think that, with a few fingers worth of notable exceptions, his post-2000 output has really sucked. While I don’t think that much of his recent work (Vicky Cristina Barcelona aside) is on par with his work in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, there’ve been some really fun pieces in the bunch.
Regardless of one’s position on the post-millenial Woodster, Midnight In Paris is a delight, filled with laughs, beautiful photography, and surprisingly valid insights into human behavior. Per one of his usual aesthetics, the hero is an insecure writer in an unfulfilling relationship. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter with very real insecurities about his literary ambitions. In Paris with his fiancé, he’s forced to spend time with her unfriendly parents and insufferable friends until a fateful moment at midnight where he finds himself in a random classic car headed for a party (well, a BUNCH of parties) in 1920’s Paris. Suddenly Gil’s spending his days with a bunch of people he likes less and less, and his nights with his literary heroes.
Crazy setup, right? Wrong! Surprisingly, the whole thing really works. Wilson’s “aw, shucks. Me?” schtick is really effective when he starts running into Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and Stein. (and a wonderfully funny Adrien Brody taking a turn as Salvador Dali) He can’t believe he’s meeting these people, and we can’t believe our good fortune at getting to see him meet them. Over and over, just when he doesn’t think it can get any better, it does just that.
Additionally, Woody’s dialogue is just the kind of thing you’d expect. What’s wonderful about it (well, one of many such things) is that Woody doesn’t look down on his audience. Will you know who everyone is that Gil meets? Unless you’re smarter than this writer, which is a real possibility, probably not. Despite that, much as in the case of Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, knowing everything about these people isn’t the point. When Hemingway starts to wax eloquent (as he often does here) about bravery and courage, it’s funny. When he gets drunk and asks Adriana (Marion Cottilard) if she’s ever shot at a charging lion, you laugh out loud.
One of the things I love most about Midnight In Paris is the good, solid look it takes at the human tendency to ignore the good things to be found in the present because of a belief in the glory of an idealized past. See, when we look back, the rose-colored glasses come on. We don’t remember going to bed hungry. We remember that “times were hard, but we were happy!” So, for Gil, the artistic community of Paris in the 20’s is exactly where he thinks he wants to be, but what would he actually do there? Would you really be willing to throw away (because, yes, that’s exactly what you’d be doing) your life if you could go “back?” I think that, a few days after arriving, we’d realize that we were in a place just as crummy as the one we came from, albeit with a far less efficient plumbing system. I’d also argue that we’d want to get back to where we once belonged as soon as possible, but not because of penicillin and Facebook. Nope. We’d want to be there because of the people in our lives that give meaning to the often lousy situations we find ourselves in. I might regret not having valued things in my past like I should have, but if I went back, far too much would be lost in the transfer. Now, if you’re wanting to send me back about 30 years with enough money to do some investing in some little companies called Microsoft and Apple . . . well, then we can talk.
I’m very pleased to see such a strong piece of work after the limp, blandly uninteresting screenhog that was You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. In many ways, Midnight In Paris is closest to The Purple Rose of Cairo in the Allen canon, but that’s a topic for another day. I did feel that the ending snuck up on me, much like the case of The Social Network. In both cases, I would have happily stayed in my seat for another half hour to see where the story might go. With Midnight In Paris, I felt that there was a bit more that could have been explored in the end, but, in the days since seeing the film, it’s bothered me less and less.
Currently, Midnight In Paris is in limited release, but I’d recommend that you make the effort to seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.
4 stars (out of 5)
Monday, May 23, 2011
While I do my best to keep up with the wide world of cinema, it’s a frontier that’s continuously expanding. For me, Cannes’ official selection serves as a barometer to point out the artists and films I ought to be paying attention to. It’s easy enough to keep track of the 5-10 American films that will receive a ton of marketing money from major studios in their turn as eventual (though painfully obvious) Oscar bait.
Were it not for Cannes, it’s possible I might still not have found my way into the work of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke, Wong Kar-Wai, Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Olivier Assayas, Cristian Mungiu, or Lars von Trier. That’s a long list of some of contemporary cinema’s most influential artists, and they don’t receive exposure on most mainstream media channels. Even with some websites and publications expressly devoted to film, there’s a tendency toward Anglo-centrism and films funded by major American studios. Sure, sometimes they’ll go highbrow and talk about period pieces featuring characters speaking with British accents (even if they’re supposed to be ancient Romans or something), but I don’t really think that counts.
For my money, the films that need to be sought out are often the ones that matter in the grand scheme of things. As recently as last year, my pick for the best film of 2010, Certified Copy, was one that I was initially exposed to through Cannes.
Unfortunately, I (for whom the Festival circuit is, in some regard, my business) have never had the opportunity to go to Cannes in person. However, a colleague of mine made the trip only days after we attended an 8-day U.S. Festival, and I’m hoping to bring you some of his thoughts on what he saw in the near future.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
Has there been a less interesting Oscars in recent memory? I’m not sure that I’d go as far as many folks have and call it the worst in history, but almost everything about the show screamed “We’re not really trying!”
The hosts: I haven’t been a big fan of replacing the atypical Oscar host with these newfangled experiments of having various pretty people do the job. I’m almost inclined to offer Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin an apology for picking on them last year. They were Abbott and Costello compared to James Franco and Anne Hathaway. It’s strange. I had a good feeling about these two. When the show started with the obligatory homage to all of the year’s big movies, I felt genuine hope that this show was going to be really fun. Hathaway’s “dance of the brown duck” was hilarious, and the montage as a whole had a nice rhythm to it. What’s more, IT WAS FUNNY, which was a luxury that Franco and Hathaway would soon be no longer capable of affording. The opening “monologue” (or should I call it an “opening dialogue?”) was ludicrously short and woefully unfunny. Hathaway was quick to establish herself as the purportedly funny one to Franco’s straight man, but she came across as much too hammy, while Franco just didn’t show up. I’m not sure if he was high or what was going on, but a guy with a lot of natural energy/charisma was doing his best Dustin Hoffman impression. One bright spot: Hathaway’s zinger of a song directed at Hugh Jackman. THAT was funny. I just didn’t know that it would be the last laugh the hosts would provide. Having two of Hollywood’s prettiest, most charming people host was a nice idea, but this experiment was a gargantuan dud. Grade: D.
- Letting Melissa Leo speak without a script. She reprised her Space Cadet role from the Golden Globes without a second thought. I know that she’d just had one of the biggest shocks/surprises/gifts of her life thrown in her lap, but c'mon.
- Kirk Douglas going on and on and on and on. I’ve got a lot of respect for the man, and it was funny at first, but then it just kept going to the point that I started to feel sorry for him.
- The strange segues back to classic films. Wait, wait, we need to present an award, let’s talk about Gone With The Wind first! I love that film, but what’s going on???
- Turning the backdrop for the Animated film categories into Far, Far Away and teasing me with “Look, there’s Shrek!” . . . WITHOUT ACTUALLY PRODUCING A GREEN OGRE. Look, having a character or two present that category is a time-honored tradition, so why must they torment me with something that might have actually been entertaining???
- Having all of the night’s winners pop out on stage at the end. I dug the kid’s choir, but having everyone come back to the stage with their little gold men almost makes you expect to hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, the graduating class of 2011!”
Now, I’ve got to take some time to point out some particularly egregious decisions. These are things for which a simple bullet point just won’t do.
The telecast’s direction: Once again, the folks in that little truck let us down. I’ve spent some time directing various things live in studio, so I do have some concept of how difficult it can be. That said, these are professionals with about 2 million cameras/shots to choose from. Should they really need to be told that a shot of people walking in front of the camera during a montage is a bad idea? When Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin walked out, they stopped for a few seconds to waltz. Did I get to see it happen? No, because we cut to a reaction shot of some star or another. Gee, don’t you think it’d make more sense to show us what’s going on and THEN cut to the crowd for about a second or two before cutting BACK to the action? Just saying.
Tom Hooper: The decision to award this man the Best Director Oscar is a baffling one, but I’ll tell you exactly how he won. Dude got lucky. Right place, right time, right movie. It’s still a bad choice. Hooper’s annoyed me as a director for years. Elizabeth I is one of the worst miniseries I’ve ever seen, and John Adams (mostly) succeeds despite his decidedly questionable direction. (I swear, if I have to look at ONE more establishing shot tilted by 45 degrees . . .) I’m hard-pressed to find anything about The King’s Speech that sets it apart from any other WWII period piece, aside from the wonderful script. Darren Aronofsky made Black Swan what it is. The Coen Bros. made True Grit what it is. David Fincher had a large part in making The Social Network what it is. What did Tom Hooper do exactly? I sure don’t know.
The King’s Speech: Look, it’s a nice movie and all, but that’s it. I’m surprised to see the Academy fall for such a clear case of Oscar bait. British? Check. Period piece? Check. WWII? Check. Nazis? Check. Hero overcoming adversity? Check. The King’s Speech is very much a by-the-books historical drama that doesn't do anything that hasn't already been done. Even in the case of Slumdog Millionaire, another winner I felt was undeserving, I can at least see why the film won. With this one, I just don't get it. It's not that I dislike the film. I just don't think that it's anywhere CLOSE to being the best film of the year. It sure pays off to be under Harvey Weinstein’s wing.
Bright spots ('cause there actually were a few):
- Cate Blanchett going off the script by saying that the makeup/visual effects used in The Wolfman were “gross.”
- Billy Crystal showing up. It was like tossing a line to a drowning audience. They were so excited to see him that you could almost hear the wheels turning, “YES YES YES! A host who knows what he’s doing! Can you stick around for the rest of the show?”
- Aaron Sorkin’s speech. They tried to play him off, which was remarkable. You do not play AARON SORKIN off the stage. To his credit, he never missed a beat in a well-paced, articulate speech that actually seemed to thank everyone he wanted to.
- David Seidler’s speech. Funny, charming, and touching, which is everything an Oscar speech should be.
- Luke Matheny’s speech (Best Short Film – Live Action). “I should have gotten a haircut. . . I want to thank my mom, who did craft services” Gold.
- The decision to have a song performed during the “In Memoriam” segment. It eliminates the CLAP CLAP CLAP for the big names and the golf-like pitter-patter for people most folks hadn’t heard of.
- Florence Welch and A.R. Rahman’s performance of "If I Rise." After a several less-than noteworthy performances, that one hit the spot. See what you get when you throw in some Eastern influence?
- Randy Newman’s speech. His performance was a bit of a mess, due to that silly backing track rendering his voice unintelligible, but his speech was gold. Irreverence at its best.
By the way, I went 18/24. Should have entered the Outguess Ebert contest, ‘cause I outguessed the guy. There’s always next year.
Let's start the Billy Crystal 2012 campaign. It's gonna happen, kids. Bet on it.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
· “Black Swan”
· “The Fighter”
· “The Kids Are All Right”
· “The King's Speech”
· “127 Hours”
· “The Social Network”
· “Toy Story 3”
· “True Grit”
· “Winter's Bone"
Predicted winner: The King’s Speech
If I was voting: True Grit
Possible upsets: The Social Network
· “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
· “The Fighter” David O. Russell
· “The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
· “The Social Network” David Fincher
· “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Predicted winner: David Fincher
If I was voting: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Possible upsets: Tom Hooper
· Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
· Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
· Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
· Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
· James Franco in “127 Hours”
Predicted winner: Colin Firth
If I was voting: Jeff Bridges
Possible upsets: None.
· Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
· Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
· Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
· Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
· Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”
Predicted winner: Natalie Portman
If I was voting: Natalie Portman
Possible upsets: Annette Bening
· Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
· John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
· Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
· Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
· Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”
Predicted winner: Christian Bale
If I was voting: Christian Bale
Possible upsets: Geoffrey Rush
· Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
· Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
· Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
· Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
· Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”
Predicted winner: Melissa Leo
If I was voting: Helena Bonham Carter
Possible upsets: Hailee Steinfeld, Helena Bonham Cater
- Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3
- Art Direction: The King’s Speech
- Cinematography: Roger Deakins – True Grit
- Costume Design: Alice In Wonderland
- Documentary (Feature): Exit Through The Gift Shop
- Documentary (Short Subject): Strangers No More
- Film Editing: The Social Network
- Foreign Language Film: In A Better World
- Makeup: The Wolfman
- Music (Original Score): Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network
- Music (Original Song): “We Belong Together” – Randy Newman (Toy Story 3)
- Short Film (Animated): Day & Night
- Short Film (Live Action): Wish 143
- Sound Editing: Inception
- Sound Mixing: Inception
- Visual Effects: Inception
- Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network
- Writing (Original Screenplay): David Seidler – The King’s Speech
Happy Superbowl Sunday to all!