Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September. It's a Wrap

Are you still trying to adjust to the new season --you're suddenly indoors a lot? Come to TFE each day for movie fun. Here's 10 highlights from the month that was...

Mamma Mia! ~ here it goes again. my my how can one describe it?
Nobody Puts Angie in a Corner ~ Attack of the 50 Ft Woman or Oscar-baiting?
Big Willie Shakespeare Style
~ Falling in (Shakespeare in) Love Again.
Once More Into the Web ~ some thoughts on Spider-Man's place within the prevailing superhero culture... Batman dark, Iron Man snark, Wolverine bark.
Little Shop of Horrors ~ I relished the chance to revisit the strange unusual plant but especially its namesake, the one and only "Audrey", created by Ellen Greene.

Oscars for My Birthday? How Kind ~ a true (dream) story
Revive the Silents ~ TFE readers are fun. I love reading your answers to my questions.
Elinor Dashwood's Sensibility ~Monologue Mondays returns for a third season
Naked Gold Man: Baby Steps ~ Oscar annual circus and its repetitive September quirk (we know less than we think we know)
EMMY Live Blogging ~ 4 hour continuous blogging can induce insomnia... I've no idea if reading it can do the same. Not for the faint of heart or weak in red carpet stamina

Coming in October
Halloween costume ideas, the first real wave of Oscar contenders (Rachel Getting Married, Blindness, Mike Leigh's Happy Go-Lucky and Oliver Stone's W.), Pushing Daisies, a return ticket to Titanic, Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy, NYFF wrap-up, Touch of Evil (50th Anniversary), and 'fiddle-dee-dee'... yes, the one and only Gone With the Wind. Among Other Things.

Unfortunate Photo Op Moment... Starring Debra Winger

Debra Winger is not that old. 53 year-olds do not require walking canes when they hit a movie premiere. Oh?! That's a stand to carry Anne Hathaway's giant poster face, you say? My apologies.

The Unbearable Linkness of Blogging

The House Next Door has Sheila O'Malley on Paul Newman
Danny Miller on the screen giant
Self Styled Siren also on the legendary actor (and come to think of it they're three of the writers I was most anxious to read pieces from)
INF Daily pics from the set of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Tim's fetish for characters that look like Christina Ricci in Sleepy Hollow continues
Nick's Flick Picks a lot of you still haven't voted in our Best Pic tournament. Do that!
Spout's Karina Longworth doesn't much like this Che fellow
Boy Culture James Franco in Interview
Towleroad James Franco in Out. My god, he's everywhere

Scanners 'Sarah Silverman is a genius (still)'... a piece on her YouTube promo for The Great Schlep
My New Plaid Pants a moment of silence for the Wedding o' the Week Defamer yet MORE fallout from that Reader release date kerfuffle.
In Contention's top 10 Paul Newman performances. We agree heartily on #1.


Opinions on Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) vary from moviegoer to moviegoer -- not everyone responds to super sized style and theatrics but to me the Australian filmmaker is a blessed rarity. He's a real live descendant of the old showman style of filmmaker or Hollywood producer. You can see the D.W. Griffith ambition. You can see the Selznick in him. If he were born before the movies he could have been a circus impresario and, quite obviously, he's Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent) in Moulin Rouge!, frantically sweating, pumping up and exploiting his talent and whipping his audiences into a carefully orchestrated frenzy. Baz thinks big. But more importantly, he thinks big naturally. His films, agonizingly slow in coming for fans, never bear the marks of required No. of Setpieces that Hollywood blockbusters do (particularly the action films). There's no straining to pad the running time, no lazy idea-free setpieces make their way in.

Even within his earliest film Strictly Ballroom (1992), which is indisputably modest in budget and story, he's going for the rousing super-sized moment. Consider the "L'Amour" sign (making its first big screen appearance, consider the hair and makeup, consider the triumphant crowd-rocking finale. Consider Paul Mercutio's ass.

Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001), which completed his aesthetic non-narrative "red curtain" trilogy of movies, were yet bigger, pricier and more successful. With each film his budgets, imagination and even the fame of his leading actors seems to increase exponentially. I worry for him a little as a result. His new film, brazenly going by the moniker of Australia stars Nicole Kidman & Hugh Jackman, two of the most famous stars on earth. It'll either be a big success or be declared a folly. This is probably as big as it gets unless his next film is called The Milky Way with a cast entirely populated by $15-25 million dollar movie stars. Even the extras will have to be household names.

Deep breaths now...

I know people have been asking me my opinion on the new trailer but I'm mostly speechless. I can sum up my reaction in basically three words which contain many more feelings.


That last refers not to the World War II explosions that end the trailer nor to the mini explosive notes mixed into the score as the showy cuts happen. It's the sound of my own heartbeat, thunderous.

Am I laying it on thick enough?

It's just that so many epics seem so desperate only to win Oscars. With Baz you know that this (Australia) is just what's inside of him. It's showy but it'll probably be damn sincere. One can't accuse any of his films of being made with awards in mind... which is more than can be said for many epics and golden hopefuls that find their way into theaters in November and December each year. It was a happy accident that Moulin Rouge!, a mad experiment, got as far as it did. It only became associated with the awards circus after it developed a feverish devoted fan base.

My greatest fear is that the new film will be stiffly weighed down by Baz & Nicole's efforts to top themselves (better not to try and top Moulin Rouge! methinks) and my greatest hope for it is that it will be every bit as thrilling in its 120+ minutes as it is in this new tiny dosage.

Eagle Eye

Judging by the box office I'm assuming some of you saw it over the weekend. Do share. And have they improved the special effects since the days of Ladyhawke and Manimal?

Tuesday Top Ten ~ 2008 Check-In

Season 3 of "Tuesday Top Ten" begins now...

A few months ago I published a "best of the year thus far" post that looks ridiculous in retrospect. It's dangerous to do those in the early summer. I mean... people can still look it up later and use it against you. An update...

That's my top 10 --okay, top 12. I don't like to decide exact rankings or final grades until late December/ early January. Films deserve more consideration than a "did'ja like that?" the second the credits roll. That's why I'm so anti-December when it comes to release dates. It's not fair to the films that top ten lists & awardage are chosen mere seconds after watching that last round of "please love me!" prestige flicks

Top Twelve 2008. Thus far ~ alpha order
Burn After Reading -Like many Coen concoctions it's hard to wrap your head around initially. Funnier to think about afterwards than to watch. Therefore, I'm guessing it gets funnier to watch on multiple go-rounds. Got it? And how about that sneaky perfect punchline ending?
Un Conte de Nöel (A Christmas Tale) -An absorbing, sophisticated and lengthy family drama/mystery/comedy. It's almost like seeing a really good novel or spending an inordinated amount of time with an overstuffed fascinating scrapbook. There's so much going on. Opens November.
The Dark Knight -You've seen it already. Next...

Elegy -Fine adult performances from Kingsley, Cruz and Patricia Clarkson especially ... all of them lensed for maximum beauty/interest in their performances. (article)
A Girl Cut in Two
-Divisive (you might hate it) but I found it colorful, kinky and involving. Ludivine is luscious but Benôit steals the show with a flamboyant and charismatic star turn.
In Bruges -Martin McDonaugh's strong debut feature. If you've seen his brilliant plays you won't be surprised at his depth, black humor, and intricate command of plot and character. Now on DVD

Kung Fu Panda
-Dreamworks makes an animated feature without excessively dated pop culture jokes. Slapstick gags rule instead. Those age just fine, think Looney Tunes.
Rachel Getting Married
-Anne Hathaway rises to a performance challenge and the formerly sleepwalking director Jonathan Demme is noticeably wide-eyed again. It's a vibrant, spontaneous, movingly humane picture. (prev post) Opens October
-An overachieving Norwegian picture about talented 20something best friends whose lives take abrupt turns once success hits. Director Joachim Trier is one to watch. Now on DVD

Trouble the Water -this raw rapping multi-faceted documentary on Hurricane Katrina, the US government, poverty and survival is a must see. "Who scared of water? Not me!" (review)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
-Woody Allen's overly erudite sexy summer in Spain. Penélope Cruz is headed for her second Oscar nomination for her blazing funny take on that Woody staple: the rampaging ex-girlfriend/wife.
Wall•E -You've seen it already. Next...

I figure if I show you these now, I'm using my teensy powers for good. See these before the year is through. It's an order a kind request. They're all quite discussable which is, in its own way, more of a recommendation than a "thumbs up" you know? ...for true movie lovers that is. But now that that's typed up it's soon to expire. Oh the sweet futility of the "in progress" list: I see Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Clint Eastwood's Changeling in the next two days. Wish me luck.

TTT ~ Season 2: Horror Performances, Longest Best Picture Titles, Cinematic Princes, Jude Law, Weirdos, Hookers, Best of '07, Ways to Improve Oscar Ceremony, Black Actresses and more...
TTT ~ Season 1 Index: Christian Bale, Bald Heads, Best of '06, Horseplay, Holly Hunter, Funny Girls, Future Bios, Catwoman, Oscar Nominationless and more


Monday, September 29, 2008

How I Feel / How I Wish I Felt

generously demonstrated by Goldie Hawn.

Monday Monologue with Christopher Walken (Pt 1)

Alvy, this is my room. Can I confess something?

I tell you this because, as an artist, I think you'll understand. Sometimes when I'm driving on the road at night I see two headlights coming toward me fast, I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly head on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass, the flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.

-Christopher Walken as "Duane Hall"

...right well --we have to go now, Chris. We're due back on planet Earth. (Christopher Walken is a nutjob. Or at least he plays one utterly convincingly onscreen.

Time to Read The Reader ?

As I'm sure you heard, The Reader, a WW II themed literary adaptation starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet is now heading for a December 12th release after months of rumors and speculation about continued delays. I know this will strike many as big 7 or 8 on the Awards Richter Scale, i.e. total Bait™Quake news -- lots of damage ahead to other contestants. But I'm leaning towards: not so much... maybe a 4 [i.e. noticeable shaking of items, rattling noises. Significant damage unlikely]

Sure, it sounds golden and both stars are still unOscared (I know!) but haven't the Weinsteins lost their touch with AMPAS since losing Miramax. Which recent campaign run by the Weinstein's has had all that successful of a run towards the Kodak theater? Part, though certainly not all, of the problem is that they only know how to do one campaign style:
  1. Release very late in the year at a scarcity of theaters
  2. Resist adding theaters. My god, only do that if you actually get Oscar nominations.
  3. Spend lots of money on schmoozing precursor bodies instead
  4. Cross fingers
I'm snarkily oversimplifying, sure, but my point is this: the annual Oscar race is an evolving beast and unless I missed some major development, they haven't done much evolving. This was a successful style of campaigning 10 years ago. Recent history suggests that it doesn't work as well anymore. The Weinstein's were very clumsy with the release of I'm Not There for example and ended up botching 'Blanchett's Second Oscar' momentum that her fans were so excited for. Not that I'm complaining, loving Tilda Swinton as I do.

On a now unrelated note -- The Reader makes me think of the 2009 Oscar race. That's how I'd come to think of it -- I must tell you a tragic story. Bored on the subway last night, awaiting my stop, I was killing time playing with my iPhone's Magic 8 Ball. On a whim I asked the truth-telling device "Will Michelle Pfeiffer's performance in Chéri next year finally win her that damn Oscar?" I gave my phone a gentle shake and you know what that Magic 8 Ball told me?

Unhappy with the answer, I decided to go for 2 out of 3. My Magic 8 Ball got even meaner.

Vanity Fair's Hollywood ~ Episode 8 (2002)

Missed other episodes? See: 1995 , 1996, 1997, 1998 , 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005 to get you caught up.

As we get closer and closer to the present day, the Vanity Fair cover girls (and sometimes boys) are starting to look more and more plausible as current cover subjects. It does take several years for an entire group of careers to change dramatically. Though, who would have guessed in April 2002 when this was published that Rachel Weisz would be the only Oscar winner within the next six years. (Connelly had already won hers).

Kirsten Dunst, newly 20, had been well known since she was 12 but her fame was exploding: that record breaking Spider-Man franchise was launching a month after this cover. She was the Next Big Thing coming off of a comic hit she carried (Bring It On, 2000) and lots of critical praise for three performance stretches: The Virgin Suicides (2000), crazy/beautiful (2001) and the just-opened period piece The Cat's Meow (2002). In other words her future was very very bright...

<-- One might say blinding: she hadn't even slept with Jake Gyllenhaal yet (!) who, and people forget this, was considerably less famous than she when that began in Sept 2002. One can never know what's coming, can one? Especially if you've just entered your twenties. Wildly hateful internet backlash and rehab for depression were still far ahead in Kiki's unforeseeable future.

Kate Beckinsale, almost 29, was very high profile at this exact moment though not so much before, having just starred in Michael Bay's blockbuster Pearl Harbor. Prior to that dumb epic she was known mostly for period pieces. Afterwards she seemed to mostly swear off indie fare (Laurel Canyon a notable exception) in favor of headlining big budget vampire flicks in skimpy costumes (Underworld, Van Helsing). Next up: Supposedly she's an Oscar hopeful for the true story political drama Nothing but the Truth.

Jennifer Connelly, 31, had just cemented her typecasting as The Depressive Crying One with her Oscar win in A Beautiful Mind (2001) which was hot on the heels of a critical hit with Requiem for a Dream (2000). She hasn't equalled the success of the former or the performance skill of the latter since. Though it almost feels like she stopped trying at her peak, doesn't it? A year after this cover she was a newlywed with a child on the way (Her A Beautiful Mind co-star Paul Bettany was the lucky man). She's never exactly gone away but films like Reservation Road, Little Children, Dark Water, Blood Diamond, House of Sand and Fog and Hulk have done little for her reputation. The 30something years are generally the plum years for actresses of a certain fame level and, strangely, she seemed to sit hers out. Who could've predicted it? Is a comeback in store? [Pictured right at the 2002 BFCA Awards -photo src]

Rachel Weisz, turning 31, had driven up her fame co-starring in The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) but a date with Oscar seemed a little far fetched at this juncture. At the time she was something like a B version of Kate Winslet: a Sam Mendes dating, talented, pretty British actress. It wasn't until she married director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) and delivered that grand performance in The Constant Gardener that she started to seem like a potential A lister. Her career has since settled back into the mid level range but who knows. Next up: The Brothers Bloom from the director of Brick and a high profile gig as the grieving mother in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones.

Brittany Murphy, 24, had been dancing animatedly around the edges of big fame for some time. A feisty offscreen personality and memorable screen stints in Don't Say a Word (2001), Cherry Falls (2000), Girl Interrupted (1999) and Clueless (1995), kept her in the Hollywood running until the lead roles started hitting 'round about the time of this cover. Movie Star status didn't really take. Maybe it was the films she delivered in her brief headliner phase from 2002 to 2004... 8 Mile, Just Married, Little Black Book, Uptown Girls? She returned to firecracker supporting parts in Sin City (2005) and The Dead Girl (2006) which seem to fit more comfortably. Still, there was real screen presence and potential that one senses wasn't quite explored for a variety of reasons -- emotional instability, party girl madness and bad career moves chief among them.

Brittany on David Letterman in 2002 (when the future looked bright)
and in the music video
Faster Kill Pussycat in 2006

Selma Blair about to turn 30 was enjoying her second Hollywood cover (see Episode 6 for more on her). Conde Nast must have owned as much stock in her career as they did in Gretchen Mol's. Blair is now returning to TV comedy full time with the US adaptation of Australia's irreverent Kath & Kim.

Rosario Dawson was about to turn 23 and enlisted by Vanity Fair's strange Affirmative Action policy with these covers [unwritten but obvious rule: one non-white actor must be placed in the last third of the foldout]. She first hit Hollywood in the controversial Kids (1995, which also introduced Chlöe Sevigny -see episode 7) and she has been a hardworking game actress since --she's nearing 40 quite diverse feature credits after only 13 years in the biz). 2002 was bringing her three major opportunities to score with the public: Co-starring in two summer star vehicles for huge stars (Will Smith in Men in Black II and Eddie Murphy in The Adventures of Pluto Nash) and The Girlfriend part in Spike Lee's joint 25th Hour which turned out to be his best since Do the Right Thing! [pictured left at a party for the film -photo src] Her work ethic hasn't let up since (either that or she can't say "no" to any offer) and fame has continued rising at a steady if non A list clip. She's currently the star of the groundbreaking web series Gemini Division and in theaters with Eagle Eye.

Christina Applegate, 30, was something of an oddity for these covers which usually focus on film stars. Her fame had come from TV (Married With Children) but perhaps the Vanity Fair staff assumed she'd really cross over? She didn't. She made ooccasional forays into the big screen: The Sweetest Thing (2002) and Anchorman (2004) to name two high profile examples. She also had a minor success on stage with a revival of Sweet Charity (2005) but through it all she never strayed far from the small screen. She recently returned there to carry the hit sitcom Samantha Who? Though not a movie star, she's a success story not to mention a Hollywood survivor --consider that storied broken foot on Sweet Charity and her recent battle with breast cancer --and a likable celebrity, too.

Naomi Watts, 33, was then more commonly known as "Nicole Kidman's Best Friend" or even "Heath Ledger's Girlfriend" rather than for her own gifts (the Aussie friends are all pictured, right, at the premiere of The Ring). She was still a relatively untested screen presence when this issue debuted despite years in the biz. Sure she had just aced her role in David Lynch's Mulholland Dr [prev posts] ensuring her a place in cinephile hearts forever but it wasn't a mainstream success and didn't bring her Oscar attention. Luckily for Watts, filmmakers went crazy for her and after The Ring (2002), 21 Grams (2003), King Kong (2005), and The Painted Veil (2006 - previous post) among others she's now the most important Actress (capital intended) of the nine featured on this "Hollywood" cover. At the time, who knew?
median age: 28, Kiki played the baby sister (20) and Naomi the mom (33)
collective Oscar noms before this cover: 1 nomination and win for Jennifer Connelly for A Beautiful Mind [see prev post] who inexplicably won everything that year despite strong competition.
collective Oscar noms after this cover: Only 2 (Naomi Watts in 21 Grams & Rachel Weisz) with one win (Weisz in The Constant Gardener)
fame levels in 2008, according to famousr, from most to least: Kirsten Dunst (this is why actors make superhero movies, you know ;), Naomi Watts, Kate Beckinsale, Brittany Murphy, Christina Applegate, Jennifer Connelly, Rachel Weisz, Rosario Dawson and Selma Blair
other episodes of 'VFH': 1995 ,1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
bonus jpeg: The ladies now!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Linker's Dozen

GreenCine rounds up the Newman tributes
Are You There Blog? finds a great humanist quote from Newman. And I already really loved Newman. I didn't need more reasons.
NewNowNext Gwyneth Paltrow's new business venture. (Maybe she should, you know, concentrate on improving her acting career while she's still young. Just a thought)
Some Came Running Glenn Kenny on Bill Condon's Oscar gig. Crazy ass screengrabs
Fabulon checks in with Sharon Stone. Someone has to
Mirror Who's That Girl? It's not Madonna. It's Debbie Harry, looking all polished and Madonna-esque. Everything comes full circle you see?
Defamer's a Call to the BullPen: Dakota Fanning on Facebook. Hee

Goatdog accomplishes the seemingly impossible. He's now seen every Best Picture nominee. Go congratulate him. I'm not even close.
A Socialite's Life Anne Hathaway making the rounds with Rachel Getting Married in NYC
Just Jared Ryan Reynolds and Scarjo are now husband & wife. [see previous TFE post for their engagement announcement]
Filmbo makes an odd comparison. Honest to blog
Moviefone asks Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) a bunch of questions. Bizarre asides about Will Smith as Captain America and Barack Obama follow.
Coffee Coffee and More Coffee reviews Seoul Raiders, that movie I'm giving away starring Tony Leung. Today is the last day to enter that contest.

Open Discussion

Get something off your chest this morning (whilst I putter about planning ahead for next week)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Celebrity Endorsement

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Great star, great man, great actor Paul Newman died yesterday of cancer [src]. Our hearts go out to his wife Joanne Woodward. The Oscar winners had been married for fifty years -- they married just a few months before their first film together The Long Hot Summer arrived in theaters. Newman will live on forever in the movies. What an inarguably rich filmography he's left the audiences who loved him.

My personal favorite of his performances, and one I hope you'll watch to bid him farewell is Hud (1963). That indelible title role won him the third of his nine Oscar nominations for acting. I also must highly recommend his underdiscussed (at least nowadays) directorial debut Rachel, Rachel (1968). That collaboration won Joanne Woodward the second of her four Best Actress nod and Newman a Best Picture nomination (though not a directing nod). I was startled at how modern it felt while I was watching it. It's aged well just as the actor did. He will be missed.

Red Carpet Rendezvous

Fashion break! I enjoy a little premiere finery as much as the gossip blogs but it's just not my goddamned raison d'etre. I'm too busy talking about movies. And Oscar. Oh shiny Oscar. He who wears nothing but a sword. (Weird that he's so connected with fashion) Anyway... here's a random sampling of what some actresses were wearing this past week at premieres, awards and parties and whatnot. Just for fun. Maybe I'll arrange a rendezvous every Saturday?

(Because I am a giver I even tried to keep their heights in scale while bringing them all together for you)

Sarah Jessica Parker celebrated the launch of the Sex & The City DVD as some sort of punk Holly GoLightly. Am I mistaken or is the print doing the actual cigarette smoking for her? That's one way to not blacken your lungs. Dakota Fanning finally resurfaced to promote Hounddog. Renée Zellweger (yes I'm saying her name. I'm trying to be nice!) has wrapped herself up for a night on the town with Viggo & Ed (lucky girl) to promote Appaloosa. Mary Louise Parker didn't win the Emmy. boo. (I also love Tina Fey so that "boo" is said in knee jerk non-committal fashion) Madonna is "Sticky & Sweet" and still rock hard at 50 as she traverses the globe to Entertain You. Her pal Gwyneth Paltrow at a party. Sandra Oh is about to go blind in Blindness (previous posts) but she wasn't blind when she chose this Emmy gown, was she? Great stuff. And finally Kiki. She's just walking down the street. Just because.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Contest: Take Tony Leung Home

If this were a literal co-habitation sort of contest I would enter daily and/or perform illegal acts to ensure that I myself would win. Alas... 'tis but a DVD. But Tony Leung Chiu Wai was made for the silver screen so taking a DVD home is the next best thing. Right? Right.

Seoul Raiders is a comic action film starring Tony as a tough Chinese detective/thief/spy (I guess he multi-tasks) and the über gorgeous Shu Qi (Three Times, The Transporter) as a cat burglar. It just came out on DVD and I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader. It's a popcorn flick but the stars are easy on the eyes (it's their 4th film together). To enter please send an e-mail with LEUNG as the subject. It should contain the following three pieces of info.
  1. Your name
  2. Your shipping address (kept private)
  3. And one reason why you love Tony Leung Chiu Wai (which I might quote whether or not you win)
It's that easy. You have until Sunday night to send that entry. The lucky winner will be announced Monday.

And, no, I have no idea what's going on in this film still either. Perhaps Richie Ren is turning green with envy over Leung's inarguable awesomeness? It happens.

Trailer of the Valkyrie

JA from MNPP here, popping my head back into these parts to direct y'all over to Yahoo! where they've got the trailer for Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, in case you haven't lain your eyes upon it quite yet. Or... maybe you don't give a crap. I've heard a lot of that. Snark here, snark there, everywhere a snark snark. And I've certainly had my... doubts. Which is why I'm pretending that Valkyrie will really be something closer to this:

A love story for the ages between Thomas Kretschmann (swoon) and Carice van Houten (double swoon)! Now that's something I could unequivocally get behind... or in the middle of... where ever...

I sometimes think I'm the only person who saw Tropic Thunder and didn't think Tom Cruise was funny (at all; Mcconaughey either dammit) so I'm not quite sure I'm gonna be able to deal with Tom Cruise... like, ever again. Which... well, that concerns me when it comes to whether I will like this movie or not since, in reality (and not the fake Kretschmann/van Houten movie I'm playing in my deranged head) Cruise is in like 90% of the shots in that trailer. He's gonna be present, ya know? Other faces that give me hope do pop up - Pleasure to see you, Tom Wilkinson! Looking good, Bill Nighy! - but I've some very real, very deep soul searching to stumble through before I sit down to the task at hand, it seems.

Or, ya know, I could just shut the hell up, realize it's just a damn movie, and behave like a sane person. Whatevs!

What's the most recent movie you've seen?

in full or in part. Do confess.

20:08 (The 40 Year-Old Bride)

Screenshots from the 20th minute and 8th second of films of 2008

and Caroline Herrerra... and Christian LaCroix... and DIOR [pictured] ... and Oscar de la Renta... and, finally, Vivienne Westwood.
Carrie Bradshaw, enduring pop culture clotheshorse and television's favorite neurotic single gal, enunciates each name carefully, as if not to wrinkle the dresses by blurting them out too forcefully or ripping a seam whilst stumbling over a jutting syllable.

<--- She's about to bust out that doubled-over / elbows out pose that's so popular on reality show modeling competitions. A pose that judges will invariably call "editorial" or "high fashion" and never once "derivative" even though people have been doing it since at least the days of Kristin McNemany and Linda Evangelista (and probably well before that)

Designers are namechecked a lot in the world of Sex & the City but in this particular scene it's appropriate since it is a fashion shoot. Our Carrie Bradshaw (the ever divisive Sarah Jessica Parker) is Vogue's bridal cover girl. Quite a coup. Unbeknownst to Carrie, this cover spectacle will ... well, it will cause P-L-O-T to happen. And it's about time since we're 20 minutes into the movie.

I kid. I love the movie... though I realize it's not so much a movie as a chance to reconnect with the girls. After watching the very awkward remake of The Women (2008) I became even more convinced that Sex & the City for all it's "now" appeal, is actually a worthy homage to girlie movies of yore. It even breaks for fashion shows just like the old black and whites used to. Sex & the City gets dinged often for being materialistic and shallow. The former charge applies, the latter does not. Carrie especially has been confronted with her own materialism and other less-than-desirable traits throughout the series. The actress and scripts have never shied away from her complexities or from investigating the shallower or, to be more generous, the fluffier pockets of her personality.

Most economic porn movies -- which is to say most movies -- including The Women never look deeply at their character's finances. Shopping sprees are rarely seen as anything other than triumphant and nobody would ever be forced to confront that they were living way beyond their means (as Carrie was during the course of Sex and the City). Now, that's shallow and materialistic, to continually glorify consumer culture and never once have to foot the bill. Everybody in television and the movies has apartments and wardrobes that they could never afford in real life -- I was giggling just last night that I was supposed to find Ugly Betty's spacious new Manhattan apartment (with big windows!) a horror. If I didn't already love my apartment I would've taken over her lease in a heartbeat.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rachel Getting Married (First Impression)

I still need to collect my thoughts on Rachel Getting Married but I will say this for now: beautiful.

Nathaniel Getting Hugged... that's how I felt. No, not in the sappy cheap way of many tearjerkers. The movie isn't interested in tidy endings or easy to swallow Life Lessons Learned™. It's willing to throw painful truth around. Kim (Anne Hathaway stepping it up in a big way) is often a complete nightmare... and not always in the loveable rogue way that the movies are so fond of. Sometimes you just want to slap her ... or at least gag her. The film has genuine heart, musical soul and a welcome spontaneity in its filmmaking (it's rare when a handheld camera actually feels organic rather than distracting).

Sadly, my Oscar hopes for it have dimmed a bit since seeing it. It's a modest gem and a true ensemble (it's easy to see supporting campaigns being hard to mount). But Oscar Schmoscar. It was yummy -- easy top ten material.

NYFF 1: Like To Watch?

...the protagonists of films @ the 46th New York Film Festival sure do. I'll write more about the festival soon but for now enjoy the first brief overview that I whipped up for Tribeca. I started the festival off with an accidental trilogy of voyeurs... I'm still recovering from that.

Click on over for my brief thoughts on the strange triple feature of Chile's Tony Manero, Poland's Four Nights with Anna and US's Afterschool. And there's also a brief shout out to A Christmas Tale starring Catherine Deneuve which contains no certifiable voyeurs although everyone is still pretty neurotic. Just the way I like my French intellectual sophisticate families.

"Nobody puts Baby Angie in a Corner"

...except, apparently, movie poster designers. What exactly is the message here? Attack of the 50 Foot Woman? Angelina will one day overpower us all !

bonus jpeg: I've redesigned the poster to make it more appropriate for the context in which the movie intends to be received. (Thanks to Fox in the comments for his fine tuning suggestion!)

The Dark Bailout

Overthinkingit.com has gone Bat-Crazy. First they asked this grammatical pop question: is it The Batman or just Batman? Hee. And they've made this odd Dark Bailout video. It'd be a funny mashup if it weren't so creepy.

I'm so horrified that the ridiculous hard right swerve we took as a nation is still viewed as OK by so many citizens. And in a way I'm even more horrified by undecided voters. How could you not have made a decision by now the way things are going? And McCain, the Great DeRegulator and faux maverick, is proving himself to be more of a hypocrite than I ever feared he was. But here's the real sting at the moment: Why is it that we're expected to think that socializing health care is EVIL (so many people in power seem to think so) but it's okay to socialize Wall Street, where people make 6 figures on up with great regularity? I'd be much happier if my tax dollars went towards subsidizing a neighbor's medical needs than insuring that some über wealthy person stayed that way. This country has some seriously f***ed up morals. Which is probably why The Dark Knight strikes such a chord with people. Even if people don't understand what's wrong, they understand something's wrong. WHAT A MESS.

Spain and Oscar's Big Foreign Film Race

I used to be the only site that covered the Oscar Foreign Film Race in anything more than a 'list of titles' way. The sandbox is no longer my terrain alone [*sniffle*] -- even the corporate sites have sections for it now. But at least, you'll give me this hat tip, my foreign Oscar section is always compiled with messy love rather than corporate mandated Oscar-mania. And it has been for years.

I even have a google map of the category --right now it's a charming toddler but when it's full grown (i.e. complete) you'll find it a very informative and handsome fellow. It should keep you well stocked in DVD rental ideas. Feedback appreciated though it's still under construction.

UPDATED 09/26*
is Oscar's third favorite submitting country (19 nominations and 4 wins) in this category. They narrowed their race down to three films. The first was Sangre de Mayo (Blood of May) from José Luis Garci who has represented Spain four times in this category winning for Volver a Empezar back in 1982. But Spain doesn't always go the way we expect. They've snubbed famous directors with potential winner films before: famously Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her was passed over in 2002.

The second was Gracia Querejeta's female driven Siete Mesas de Billar Francés (Seven Tables of French Billiards --what an odd title?!) which co-stars Blanca Portillo (an Almodóvar favorite) who won Best Actress at the San Sebastian Film Festival for this film and Maribel Verdu (pictured, from Y Tu Mama Tambien and Pan's Labyrinth) who are grieving the loss of the same man, one's father the other's lover.

The third and the selected film is Los Girasoles Ciegos (The Blind Sunflowers) a post war drama by José Luis Cuerda which also stars Maribel Verdú -- she's popular these days -- and Talk to Her's Javier Camara.

Now on to the ever growing number of countries that have announced their representative films...

44 official entries announced thus far
Page 1: Austria to Finland
Page 2: France to Japan
Page 3: The Netherlands through Vietnam
* Vietnam's entry may be heading towards disqualification

...with more movies still to be announced if the past number of total submissions is indication -- it usually reaches about 60, give or take a few. All entries must be submitted to AMPAS by October 1st but it'll take Oscar another week or three to release the "official" list.

Don't you love this part? Now if only all of them were available to each and every one us in whichever country we happen to watch movies in. Here's to global distribution for all of this year's submissions.

I bid you adieu with this trailer for Painted Skin which is playing the role of the mandatory Asian action submission

...which, following tradition, the Academy will then ignore, as is their habit post Crouching Tiger (with the wonderful colorful exception of Hero and the blah biopic size of Mongol.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NYFF: Interlude

Mobile post sent by nathanielr using Utterli. reply-count Replies. mp3

Big Willie (Shakespeare) Style

Nathaniel: In each episode of the mammoth "Best Pictures From the Outside In" project, Mike (Goatdog's Movies), Nick (Nick's Flick Picks) and I have been viewing two Oscar winners, one from either end of the Academy's 80 years timeline, moving forwards and backwards simultaneously. Today's double feature happens to star two very famous and prolific writers.

Emile & 'Will' co-star in one close-up in The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

On our trip forward we hit 1937's The Life of Emile Zola, a biopic cum courtroom drama set in France where Zola continually rocked the boat with controversial novels and politically crusading letters. On our trip backwards in Oscar time we've reached 1998's Shakespeare in Love, a romantic comedy cum theatrical love letter set in England when Shakespeare was making his name. Though we see very little of Zola in the act of writing (he's more of an orator on celluloid), we're treated to plentiful ink-stained close-ups of "Will" (Shakespeare) putting pen to paper even if he's more of a poetic lover on celluloid. Those particular shots made me wish that we were conversing with quill pens and sending each other exquisitely crafted letters rather than jotting out quickie e-mails like, well, this one.

If you were dipping your quill in the ink… what's the first sentence you'd scribble down about each film? Or would you just ignore The Life... altogether and start composing multiple sonnets to ...Love? That's what I'm tempted to do.

Nick: Nathaniel thinks I can limit myself to a SINGLE SENTENCE. Ha ha ha ha ha...

Here's a start: "Zola! Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Well, I absolutely f***ing won't. Not remotely the frame of reference that came to mind. But if I compare thee to a cold winter's night--that is, if I compare thee to Cimarron or Cavalcade--I find that I like thee so very much more. However stodgy and slow, you are a handsome little fellow."

Mike: My attempts to adapt the opening paragraphs of several Zola novels for our discussion having come to naught, I say this: Zola is both overstuffed and understaffed at the same time; the sets are lush and warm, but they're populated by so few people that it seemed like a high-school drama class was given free rein to use the Warner Bros. backlot but unfortunately limited to the dozen or so members of the class. And this: Shakespeare in Love moves with breathtaking exhilaration, its screenplay is a smart and funny exploration of the pain of artistic creation, it deserved almost all the Oscars it won (especially Best Picture), and I'm glad the film industry quickly got over its exploration of Joseph Fiennes as a leading man.

"J'Accuse... !" Paul Muni of being a ham and Joseph Fiennes of being a fox

Nick: Which leads me to a question. As clearly as Emile Zola would have hated Shakespeare in Love (too flouncy! not Real!), do you think the filmmakers of Life of Emile Zola would have hated Shakespeare in Love? Which is to say, does the Zola film express an aspiration toward the liveliness, momentum, and aplomb that I agree Shakespeare in Love possesses, or do we see a concerted drive toward the kind of sobriety, slowness, and superficiality of characterization we often get in Zola.

Another way to ask this would be whether bad films are even trying to be good ones, but I actually feel a little generous toward Zola. There's a severity to its compositions and its tone that I kind of appreciate, and symptoms like its very glancing look at Alfred Dreyfus (Supporting Actor winner Joseph Schildkraut, pictured right) who languishes in jail without developing much of a filmic "personality," COULD be a way of expressing what Dreyfus is losing (i.e., a three-dimensional life) by spending all those years in jail. Just as the film COULD be trying to show what a self-righteous stuffed shirt Emile Zola finally became even when he fought on the side of Right. Paul Cezanne certainly seems to think so. But there's also a nagging sense that Life of Emile Zola may just be failing to be the fuller, richer, more rousing and humane movie it would very much like to be. What do you guys think?

And I don't mean to keep avoiding Shakespeare in Love. I just haven't thought of enough puns yet.

Nathaniel: Is this one question or five? My mind's eye has glazed over and all I can see is that bizarre book cover pan that takes place, I think, between act one (Zola's generic lean years) and the other two acts (the interminable rest of the movie) showing us dozens of Zola's famous titles. I think the purpose of that bridge shot is to signify Great Accomplishment™ without having to actually dramatize it. After all, there's much speechifying to make room for.

If Zzzola is trying to be a rousing experience it's failing in a colossal way. To me it was a veritable anti-drama. I had the opposite reaction to the one named earlier: Cimarron and Cavalcade are solidly fun popcorn pictures in comparison. But I'm glad you mentioned them again, Cimarron in particular. To me the bulk of Zola is basically Cimarron's worst scene --that hysteric courtroom diversion-- only stretched out to feature length.

The one character I identified with was Dreyfus. It felt like a prison to me.

Mike: I don't think Zola wants to be anything but what it is: a Serious Biopic, a Film for the Educated, a Film for Grownups. Its stodginess defined a genre that was popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s and was certainly well-represented at the Oscars: look at The Story of Louis Pasteur, Madame Curie, One Foot in Heaven, Blossoms in the Dust, ad nauseam, ad hypniam. And I think there was definitely an idea that Hollywood could educate people with these movies--that's the only thing that can explain the seriously streamlined feel of a lot of the proceedings, like it's a lesson plan for fifth graders. It concentrates all the action into a ridiculously small number of characters, resulting in scenes like the one where the military brass are trying to figure out what to do about the Dreyfus letter--I had the feeling that if they pulled the camera back, it would reveal all five or six members of the military sitting in a row of offices, each waiting for his immediate underling to bring this event to his attention. Its weirdness results from these dual and conflicting goals: remind the educated how smart they are, and educate the uneducated. But I don't think it wants to be more rousing or entertaining than it is, because I think the genre forbids that.

Dear god I'm sick of Zola. Can we talk about Shakespeare now? Let's start with how happy we were to be reminded of how great -- passionate, funny, intelligent -- Gwyneth Paltrow can be when given the right role. Hell, we can even talk about Ben Affleck --I loved him in this movie, even though I'll back off my off-blog comment to Nick that I wish he had played Will Shakespeare. Imelda Staunton! Colin Firth! Tom Wilkinson! Anything but Zola!

Nick: Shakespeare in Love is seriously great. I know a lot of people find it overrated and think its Oscar win was bogus, but in a weird way, that whole scuttlebutt has also led to the film being underrated, don't you think? Having just watched so many 1930s comedies as part of this conversation series, it's all the more stunning to see the same swiftness of pace and succinct, delicious exaggeration of character in such a modern comedy. You can totally see Cary Grant (for Joseph), Irene Dunne or Katharine Hepburn (for Gwyneth), Alice Brady (for Imelda), and Walter Connolly (for Geoffrey) in this thing, right? Which means, for all the reasons Mike just mentioned, it would very likely have LOST Best Picture in the 1930s.

It's also incredible to realize that this comedy, unlike almost any other recent comedy I can think of off the top of my head, has zero truck with nastiness (either meanness or grossness), and even when the double-entendres and insider references border on the smug, it isn't that lazy sarcasm that's all over modern movies. I love how generous the movie is, with character and story and tone, and how that doesn't make the movie bubble-headed, because it's also so interested in sadness and separation.

Nathaniel: It's not particularly strange that Shakespeare in Love acquired all that extraneous baggage -- that's to be expected with Oscar wins. But it is sad. For in this particular case of late breaking tide-turning enthusiasm, the Academy has very little to be ashamed of. I wasn't completely wild about it that year (I'm surprised to announce that I'm much crazier about it at this very moment) but this was and is a better picture than the expected champion it overthrew. The cherry on top? I wasn't rooting for her that year (I was leaning Montenegro then Blanchett from the nominees), but Paltrow's performance holds up. She's radiant. She doesn't get enough credit for the actor's command she has over her voice I think. It's quite an instrument and it has so many shadings in this movie, just as her face does in closeup ... storming over with dignified anger or romantic confusion or love of art. Within the context of the annual Best Actress crowning, I'm now willing to concede it's one of the freshest choices they've made in some time. It's both a character performance and a star turn and my god but they're too stingy with the latter these days, you know?

Gwyneth glows while reading her reviews. They also glow.

I enjoy almost every performance in this picture, with the exception of Geoffrey Rush (whom I'll just never really *get* I suppose. It's a mystery), and I'm glad that it took as long to get made as it did. Wasn't this supposed to star Daniel Day-Lewis and Julia Roberts originally some years earlier? Imagine what a different, and frankly lesser, film that would have made all burdened with star power too modern (Julia) or heavy (Daniel) for such a farce.

One quibble: what was with the terrible insert cutting in two different scenes to show us that Someone is Coming to spoil the party? It was like a parody of those countdown clock action movie flourishes where you swear they're stretching that last 10 seconds out into five minutes. That bomb is never going to go off in those action movies and by the time Someone Arrived in each case in Shakespeare in Love, I had forgotten that they were even on their way. Am I making any sense?

Nick: I completely get you, and it's a fair way to concede the flaws in this beautiful film. (I almost added "soulful," but is that too embarrassing an adjective?) I think the movie gets a little bogged down in the interlude when Viola thinks Will is dead and Will thinks Wessex killed Marlowe, and suddenly there is some lakeside moping under a tree. A good five or ten minutes of slightly misjudged tone and tempo. But that's only because the energy and elegance is so well-preserved everywhere else. For instance, in the merry score. And in the splendiferrific costumes by Sandy Powell, with whom Nathaniel and I have a sort of Design for Living three-way marriage thing. Someone should remember to make sure she knows.

Last bit from me: I'm thrilled to hear nice things said about Paltrow. I've maintained for years that despite the rumors, she was better in this than Blanchett was in Elizabeth. I know you guys aren't necessarily agreeing, but finding three people who admire her work in this movie is feat enough. And when I think that, in addition to Julia, this role was once earmarked for Winona effing Ryder... as earmarks go, that would literally have been a Bridge to Nowhere.

The weirdly incestuous '98 Best Actress Battle: Gwyneth & Cate
shared a leading man (Joseph Fiennes) a supporting actor (Geoffrey Rush)
and Queen Elizabeth even had a crucial role in Shakespeare in Love

Nathaniel: I actually was agreeing with you, which surprises me. But don't tell Blanchett's legion of admirers obsessors that I've switched sides ... or it'll be our sites shut down and not plague-ridden Elizabethan playhouses.

Mike: Paltrow gets my vote, although I have to admit that the only thing I remember clearly about Elizabeth is the scene where she gets the bishops to accept the Church of England by locking a few in the basement and then tossing her head coquettishly at the rest.

I don't think Shakespeare is perfect: even though I didn't dislike the constant insert cutting Nathaniel alluded to (it actually added to the comedy by the third or fourth time for me), the ending bothers me. Films about tormented (male) artistic geniuses often feature a fair maiden who inspires him, sleeps with him (sometimes the order is switched), and then gets the hell out of his way so he can go on being a tormented genius. That's a parallel between this film and Zola, although at least Zola's muse (Dreyfus) eventually got to leave his prison island, whereas poor Gwyneth is stuck with Virginia (but at least she doesn't die, which is often the fate of the muse). It would complicate matters too much if she stuck around: we don't really want to think of our geniuses as having small talk over coffee in the morning, squabbling about income taxes, or changing diapers--or being really happy.

But then again, that's one of the things that sets these two films apart: Shakespeare is bittersweet, but Zola gives us what feels like the crowning achievement of Zola's life. Sure, he dies, but he dies a hero, having accomplished everything he needs to do. The bulk of Will Shakespeare's writing life is ahead of him, and will always be tinged with melancholy, but most of Zola's biopic and his ultimate triumph are only peripherally related to what he's best remembered for--writing. As a film, as a biopic, and as an exploration of what it's like to be a writer, Shakespeare beats Zola.

Readers: Keep the conversation flowing in the comments...

vote: The Best Pic Tournament, our choices and yours so go and vote. Mike has mashed up the two films. Paltrow sure gets around.
next week's double feature: Titanic (1997) and You Can't Take it With You (1938)

Statistics: Shakespeare in Love was nominated for 13 Oscars (one shy of the all-time record) and won 7: Picture, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Costume Design, Art Direction and Comedy Score (during the brief period when the Oscars momentarily thought they were the Golden Globes). The Life of Emile Zola was up for 10 statues and won 3: Picture, Screenplay and Supporting Actor.

Best Pictures From the Outside In (so far)
episode 1 No Country For Old Men (07) and Wings (27/28)
episode 2
The Departed (06) and Broadway Melody (28/29)
episode 3 Crash (05) and All Quiet on the Western Front (29/30)
episode 4
Million Dollar Baby (04) and Cimarron (30/31)
episode 5
LotR: The Return of the King (03) and Grand Hotel (31/32)
episode 6
Chicago (02) and Cavalcade (32/33)
episode 7 A Beautiful Mind (01) and It Happened One Night (34)
episode 8 Gladiator (00) and Mutiny on the Bounty (35)
episode 9 American Beauty (99) and The Great Ziegfeld (36)
episode 10 Shakespeare in Love (98) and The Life of Emile Zola (37)