Saturday, October 31, 2009

October. It's a Wrap.

BOO! I hope stateside readers are enjoying late night Halloween festivities (I do so love this holiday) but if you're elsewhere on a slow night, get caught up on ten highlights from the month that was.

Precious Bleeds Over yes, it's fantastic. But how pure can our reactions be after 10 months of hype?
Tilda in the Flesh two pieces on Tilda Swinton at the New Yorker Festival
Directors of the Decade Robert kicked off an exciting retrospective column with Martin Scorsese. Who will he spotlight next?
First and Last: TV Glenn hosted the liveliest comment guessing game yet for this series. While I finally stumped y'all after fifty-plus tries.
Paris is Burning Matt's new series "Screen Queens" covered one of the best documentaries of past 20 years

Overheard at the Cinema lots of fun comments on Wild Things opening weekend
From London...
Cross the Atlantic, Dave saw a ton of movies and kept reporting back. We thank him v. much
On Amelia You can rub wooden actors together but you're not going to spark a fire
Whip It Vodcast Katey and I had a ball watching this. Too bad there won't be a sequel given how much more one could do with that material
Mariel's (Muriel's) Lament JA wrote a fine piece on Muriel's Wedding. 15 years later the Aussie comedy still resonates

What's next?
Who knows. But thinks will get starrier and crazier as Oscar campaigns heat up. November topics will include but are not limited to: Bogart, Broken Embraces, Colbert, Cruz, Curtis, DiCaprio, Eastwood, Fanning, Gyllenhaal, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Holbrook, Hudson, Leigh, Mackie, McAvoy, McGregor, The Messenger, Nine, The Princess and the Frog, Red Cliff, The Road, Streep and Up.

What are you...

...dressing up as for Halloween tonight? Is it movie related?* If you live outside of a costume-party zone, what would you dress up as on the big night?

If you e-mail me a photo, I will do a post of movie-related costume photos as worn by Film Experience readers. Don't be shy!

(*Mine is not. I have been roped into going as an evil faerie. There are 7 of us but I think we look more like alien bugs. Oops)

F&L: fade to white

First and Last is celebrating Halloween all week
with creepy images and terrifying words.

First line: "Are you Henry?"

Last image before the credits:


Can you guess the movie?

highlight for the answer: David Lynch's Eraserhead
for more first and last puzzles, click the label below

Friday, October 30, 2009

Movies That Make Me Think of Halloween

Recycled Film Experience! I wrote some of this in advance -- years in advance in fact -- to free up time to enjoy this costume crazed holiday. I originally published this list in 2005, but I've tweaked it some. Plus, not all of you were around in 2005. Herewith, the top 12 movies that remind me of Halloween. It's a top ten list and it's not even Tuesday. I'm so generous.

12 The Batman franchise (1989-2008)
In 1997 I went out Halloween clubbing as the Uma version of Poison Ivy. Whenever you dress up as a movie character the year the movie comes out, you'll have competition. There was another Poison Ivy there but I buried her, I promise. I had the horns and all the details, see. It was the longest I ever spent getting ready for Halloween (which is saying something): glue guns, orange wigs, fake foliage, you name it. I don't try as hard anymore. Last year, there were hundreds of Ledger versions of The Joker. I suspect there will be this year, too. Group costumes are always my favorite so I love seeing whole groups as Batman and his rogues gallery.

11 Sleeping Beauty (1959)
It's all about Maleficent. She makes me think of this festively dark holiday because I always thought that, on the right person and with the right commitment, the perfect Maleficent costume would be unbeatable. I know you can buy mass produced versions but I've never seen anyone anywhere come close to approximating this sorceress' majesty, gorgeous evilness, or the correct color of her flawless skin. And even if the right Halloween reveller could nail this singular look, they couldn't morph into a fire breathing dragon anyway.

Maybe the only way to do right by Maleficent on Halloween is to ditch the witch costume halfway through the party and finish the night out as the dragon?

10 Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Sandy Powell's costumes are glam rock heaven. And, more universally, looks that go with music (glam rock, disco, goth) are always hits as costumes go.

09 Clue (1985)
I imagine you're scratching your head. That Tim Curry comedy from the 80s? That board game? Why, yes, my friends. I played the game all the time with my family growing up. I still play the game actually -- two weeks ago in fact. I saw the movie three times in the theater. Little remembered fact: The DVD features three 'what if' endings but in the theater there was only one. You had to try different theaters to see all the endings. Dutifully, I fell for the marketing ploy.

"Too make a long story short..." "TOO LATE!"

Much later in college one year, a Clue discussion erupted into party plans. There were six of us. We would dress as Clue for the party we were attending! I was Mr Green. [tangent: It was the first and the last time that I was ever seen w/ a moustache. Yuck]. The brilliance of dressing up with a group as Miss Scarlett, Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, and Mr Green (and a dead body if there's a seventh person) cannot be overstated. It's easy. It's creative (the movie characters are just one visual interpretration). It's not expensive. And, despite there being no definitive look to adhere to, people will recognize who all of you are, provided you stick together and especially if you bring the weapons.

08 Kill Bill (2003)
For the past several Halloweens I have had this fantasy of being Uma Thurman as The Bride. (What is it with me & Uma, come October 31st each year?) Long blond locks. An imitation Hattori Hanzo sword. A yellow jumpsuit. With blood stains. Friends as the remaining DVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) or the crazy 88s. They form my entourage and strut down the street with me. It's like one massive Sally Menke edited, Robert Richardson lensed, Quentin Tarantino directed dream sequence that's all about glorifying me. Me. Me. Me! (This fantasy has been brought to you by the holiday Halloween, my inner drag queen, and my tireless enthusiasm for self-aggrandizement. Just pretend that Halloween is my birthday. Go with it.)

07 Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Mainly because during its warm holiday-filled Americana it breaks for that lengthy somewhat atonal trick or treat segment. [more on that classic]

06 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
I'm thinking of I should make this movie exempt from all lists -- I talk about it too much.-- because it has so many advantages. This movie is so deeply enmeshed into the collective subconcious that one can, if inclined, connect it to all else. The more fascinating list to make would probably be along the lines of "Top Ten Things That Don't Make Me Think of The Wizard of Oz". It makes me think of everything: childhood, television, the cinema, Thanksgiving, Christmas, other 'friends of Dorothy', showtunes, midgets, shoes, Broadway, lions & tigers & bears, fantasy versus reality debates, beauty fascism, dreams, emeralds, short work days, hot air balloons... I could go on all day. I'll spare you.

But we're talking about Halloween. You'll see riffs on every one of its main characters this time of year. Silly spins (hirsute drag queens in Dorothy wigs), innocent enthusiasms (it makes a great family group costume), and every other imaginable interpretation. The second and better reason is the beautiful wickedness of The Wicked Witch of the West. Audience affection for this villain runs deep, but only on Halloween, the night when evil is good, does it seem appropriate to wish that Dorothy had never tossed that bucket of water her way. What a world... what a world.

05 The Crow (1994)
I've seen the mime face w/ black leather pants (easy, iconic) every year on the streets. But that's not why it reminds me of Halloween. There's also the creepy intertextual ghoulishness of a story about a dead man being played by a man who was killed on the set while filming the role (Brandon Lee, rest in peace). But that's not why it reminds me of Halloween. The Crow appears because I hail from Detroit, Michigan and so does this gruesome story.

If you'd have told me as a child that I'd have to explain "Devil's Night" (the night in which all The Crow's narrative mayhem occurs) to other people when I grew up I would have laughed at you with the easy myopia of childhood. 'Who doesn't know what Devil's Night is?' I would have scoffed. Apparently lots of people. Or so I discovered when I moved out west for college. When The Crow opened, I suddenly had an easy-to-cite cultural reference to explain the night of vandalism, arson, and general mischief that precedes Halloween. I thought everyone grew up tepeeing houses, egging cars, setting fires, and sneaking around their neighborhood on October 30th each and every year.

04 Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Which I talked about briefly in my Towleroad article this week

03 Halloween (1978)
Well, duh. Of course it would be on the list. True story: I saw it for the first time in 2004. I have this way of avoiding movies that I think will scare me. I only saw Silence of the Lambs a year after it opened because I had to (the Oscars you know) and I kept having nightmares about it. I figured, 'why the hell not? I'm already having nightmares!' The nightmares stopped once I saw it. It wasn't as scary as the nightmares. But Halloween is evilscary. The daylight scenes are even scary.

02 Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Nothing says "Halloween" more than sunlight aversions and blood-lust. Of all vampire films, Francis Ford Coppola's elaborately bizarre, colorful, and passionate treatment of the vampire mythos is the one I hold most dear. It's not the "best", though. The most peculiar thing about this film and my love for it, is that I don't really think that much of it works. A good deal of the problems seems to be in the casting. The most interesting performance among the major characters (Sadie Frost as Lucy... previously discussed) has the least screen time. Keanu Reeves is wooden as Jonathan Harker, Gary Oldman lacks the sexual charisma that this romantic horror epic needs (though otherwise the performance works) and strangely, despite it being filmed during what were unarguably her peak years, Winona Ryder also flails about for the entire running time. She never was adept at period (nevermind those two Oscar nominations) but her star turn reads over the top rather than operatically passionate once the blood hits the wall. Still, despite many misgivings, the film is a spectacle in the best sense. You can't take your eyes off of it. Coppola's passion for le cinéma is evident throughout as he tries every conceivable camera trick in the book. His approach is a perfect fit for this grand guignol tale.

There's no trace of laziness in the movie (even the bad actors are trying hard), no fingerprints of the undead were involved in this film's making, only fully committed living and breathing artists attempting something awesome. For whatever reason, this particular Coppola film is never booked for repertory houses or even midnight screenings (though it would seem an ideal fit for both) . That's a shame because this epic was meant for big screens where the enormity of its oddness and those Oscar winning techs (costumes, makeup, visual effects) were properly showcased and able to cover for the clumsy bits.

01 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Who better to be considered the cinematic patron saint of Halloween than weird, wild-haired auteur Tim Burton? Maybe his films aren't what they once but it's hard to argue with that initial run encompassing Frankenweenie, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Other highlights like Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! (and Corpse Bride, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd if you're feeling generous) display a magical combo of the macabre and innocent, bound together with dark humor and visual invention. In other words, it's easy to love Tim Burton's movies for the exact same reasons that it's easy to enjoy Halloween.

The storyline of the frequently rereleased The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was actually directed by Coraline's Henry Selick (Burton produced and came up with the story), is actually or at least initially about a longing for Christmas. But from its hilarious and jokily gruesome opening number "This is Halloween" to its triumphant 'let's put on a show' reaffirmations of purpose at the end, this movie subverts all the yuletide love into an ode to Halloween as the supreme holiday for those with ghoulishly creative minds. That twist is this movie's grand trick and The Nightmare Before Christmas is still a treat.

I went pretty personal with the list. So let's hear yours: what movies most remind you of Halloween and why? And what are you dressing up as this year?

Say It Aint So, Bub

Damn. Hugh Jackman has turned down a second gig as Oscar host. At least for now.

I really wanted him to come back... had such a good time last year, I did. Especially when he & Hathaway forced fantasies of a co-starring gig in a future movie musical upon me.

But then I'm easier to please than your average viewer when it comes to awards shows. For example I've read a ton of bizarro world articles in the wake of the Ricky Gervais hosting the Globes news which seem to go along the lines of 'maybe it'll finally be a fun show'. Ummm... since when AREN'T the Globes fun? The celebrities are plentiful, drunk, squeezed next to each other in sometimes revealing or incongruous table assignments. I l-o-v-e it. The Globes have always been fun. Except for that incredibly lame strike-sponsored year but let's go back to pretending that didn't happen.

If they're bringing someone back for the Oscars, my vote is for Steve Martin or Ellen DeGeneres. My dream would be somebody movie-connected who is also hilarious and can sing. If the Oscar's dont mind sharing the EMMY Host, Neil Patrick Harris would work, too. I'm sure there are less obvious names that would be great choices too... Kristin Chenoweth? Tina Fey. Hmmm. Now, it's not exactly an enviable gig, this Oscar host thing, since no matter how well you do you'll get at least a few (okay several) savage reviews. But even if the media doesn't pat the hosts on the back for their efforts, I'm sure their bank accounts are ready with a bear hug. Who would you like to see hosting the Oscars?

F&L: Two Sheilas

First and Last is celebrating Halloween all week
with creepy images and terrifying words.

First line: "Ya travellin' with two sheilas, eh mate?"

Last image before the credits:

Can you guess the movie?

Highlight the following text for the answer: WOLF CREEK (2005) for more first and last puzzles, click the label below

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LFF: I've Been Somewhere, Boy

Dave here, reporting from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL one last time. It's been my first full-on film festival, and if I said I wasn't dying to lie in my bed for twenty-four hours in a deep sleep, I'd be lying. But it's been a fantastic few weeks, a reignition of my passion for film, and an experience I'll probably never forget. Below, you can read my full review of Nowhere Boy, the John Lennon picture that received its world premiere as the festival's Closing Night Gala, and then my own personal set of "awards". But first, a big thanks to Nat for making it all happen, and I really hope you've enjoyed my coverage and that you'll seek out some of these movies - should you, of course, be given the chance.

Nowhere Boy begins with a couple of coy nods to that which it avoids mentioning explicitly - the Beatles. (Clearly I have no such qualms myself.) The exhilirating screams of a crowd rise on the soundtrack as the young John Lennon races down the road - pursued by no one. It is, one feels, the perfect way to deal with a fact that isn't integral to this particular story, but will inevitably be flitting around the audience's minds. It's not ignored, it's merely unimportant for the portion of John Lennon's life the film choses to focus on. It's also exemplary of the spry, brisk humour that lightens the load of a story that errs slightly too much to the heavily emotional.

Sam Taylor-Wood's debut feature, following her acclaimed short Love You More and almost two decades of artistic work, shows her aesthetic skills to be, thankfully, pushed more in the direction of emotion than style. There remain some striking visual moments, but all are tailored to deepen the understanding we have for the characters that Taylor-Wood has made so empathic. Matt Greenhalgh's script is serviceable but suffers from similar problems to his previous musician biopic-of-sorts, Control, in that, in its choice to follow a similar template - a man stuck between two women - it risks reducing a life to a set of scales. But where Control's romantic triangle remained elusive because the interactions between the trio were limited in their complexity, Nowhere Boy not only has more angles to the three points of its shape but has a better sense of who they are.

It helps, of course, to have such a fine cast, and all three of the lead players here respond with impressive dexterity and emotion to their director, lifting the script's occasionally tired dimensions to a fresher, natural feeling. The film peaks in a powerful, confrontational scene between the three of them - Lennon (Aaron Johnson), his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mini (Kristin Scott Thomas) - where the odd dimensions of this triangle are laid bare. What is Julia to John? A mother? A sister-type? A crush? An obvious dimension to this all sets John as caught between embodiments of the sides of the stark shift that was occuring at this moment in time - Aunt Mimi is the stiff upper-lip, reserved old guard, where the estranged Julia is the free spirit of the rock 'n' roll generation. All three actors finely modulate both the surfaces and the recesses of their characters, never compromising on who they presents themselves as and playing the slips from it as natural, organic moments. Kristin Scott Thomas, you won't be surprised to learn, steals best-in-show honours, her firm, slightly cold attitude mediated with the fierceness of her love for John, expressed in the strict mothering way that seems to be the way that makes the most sense to her. That's not to discredit Duff, whose vibrant exterior cracks as her past is scrutinized by her family, or Johnson, who combines rakish charm with a slightly off-putting arrogance, as it's the combination of the three performers that really makes the film spark.

Nowhere Boy doesn't spring any particular surprises, but it's as good as it could possibly have been. Taylor-Wood's artwork, some of which I glimpsed at her talk a few days ago, was much less visually styled than intensely personal and emotional, and it's this trait she carries so strongly across to her filmmaking. Ultimately, while it's not the film's focus, Lennon's music emerges as important because it makes him individual, it escapes the need of both women in his life. Nowhere Boy is a promising debut from a director who evidently has a lot of passion for what she's doing, and thankfully seems to be quite good at doing it. B+

In the end, then, a very good film to finish with. And now, because no one can ever resist them, my own picks for the best of the fest:

Niels Arestrup, A Prophet
(runner-up: Oscar Isaac, Balibo)

Rosamund Pike, An Education
(runner-up: Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy)


Aleksei Arsentyev, Wolfy
(runner-up: Stéphane Fontaine, A Prophet)


Jacques Audiard, A Prophet
(runner-up: Jane Campion, Bright Star)

Tahar Rahim, A Prophet
(runner-up: Aaron Johnson, Nowhere Boy)


Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
(runner-up: Yana Troyanova, Wolfy)


A Prophet
(runner-up: Samson and Delilah)

Thanks for reading, commenting, thinking, and, hopefully, watching.

Directors of the Decade: David Lynch

Robert here, continuing my series of the directors that shaped the past 10 years (Enjoy the first two installments on Scorsese and Bahrani) . The most important directors of the past 10 years aren’t always the most prolific, though this series will require a director to have released at least 2 films. Not to mention some of those featured here may be love ‘em or hate ‘em choices. Something tells me, this weeks entry is one such man: David Lynch.

Number of Films: Two.
Modern Masterpieces: I’m going to go ahead and suggest that both Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire qualify.
Total Disasters: Though you may feel that both Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire fall here.
Better than you remember: And if you do think that, may I suggest you place them here.
Awards: Nominated for a Best Director Oscar for Mulholland Drive. Won Best Director in Cannes for that same film.
Box Office: Mulholland Drive grosses over 7 mil, easily topping Inland Empire. That’s what lesbians get you.
Critical Consensus: Mulholland Drive receives high praise (some suggesting it’s his best). Inland Empire confuses the bejesus out of people, gets mostly good notices.
Favorite Actor: Justin Theroux stars in both films and the remaining principle cast of Mulholland Drive returns for Inland Empire to do the voices in a rabbit sitcom (taken from his short film Rabbits).

Let’s talk about:

Dreams. I’ve long believed that the “it’s all a dream” gimmick isn’t necessarily cinematic suicide as long as you stick to one important rule… if your story is “all a dream” please don’t tell the audience. Just leave it be. Films mired in dream-logic have an unfortunate tendency to break down and explain everything to the audience almost as if they don’t trust the viewer to accept a world not based in logic-logic (I’m looking at you Vanilla Sky). Such films give up standing as art, or even entertainment in favor of being a puzzle, a riddle, a trick, the main point of which is solving the shallow mystery. It does a great disservice to the story and to the viewer.

Are David Lynch’s movies dreams? We don’t know precisely because he avoids any artificial third act reveal. Lynch’s movies may be dreams and they may be puzzles, but it’s clear that he doesn’t see them that way. He’s not interested in presenting the audience with a trick. Odd as it may seem, he’s interested in presenting them with a truth.

Lynch... and Beatles

Even if Lynch’s movies aren’t dreams, it’s obvious that the man himself is a believer in the genuine honesty of dream-logic. Dream-logic is unhindered by restrictions of consistency or reality. And since restrictions and hindrances only get in the way of truth, dream logic can more quickly lead the way to honesty. Though Lynch's goal isn’t intellectual honesty (even though most people spend their time watching a Lynch straining their brains) as much as it is emotional honesty. David Lynch doesn’t want you to think. David Lynch wants you to feel. Unlike most directors, he seems to believe that the medium of film has more in common with music than literature. He’s relived himself of the burden of clear narrative (so necessary for literature) and instead focused on the type of moods that few things other than a piece of music can give. When watching a David Lynch film, ignore the frustrations perplexing you and simply sit back, allowing it to envelop your being... like a dream.

All of this is worth noting, since Lynch’s two films this decade are among the most abstract in his filmography and his current career trajectory points inevitably in the same direction. After riding high in the 80’s (except for Dune which I contend has a charm all its own) and owning the cult TV market in the early 90’s, Lynch was at something of a crossroads heading into our current decade. Coming off an uneven Lost Highway (which now feels mostly like a warm up for his films of the aughts) and an uncharacteristic (though brilliant, if I may say) The Straight Story, Lynch probably wasn’t hoping for a soundly rejected TV pilot. But after a little re-tooling, Mulholland Drive became a phenom (scoring a Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Drama) that was labeled by more than a few critics as his “masterpiece.” His follow up, Inland Empire, pitched as the story of “a woman in trouble” seemed like it would be more of the same. But it was anything but. Inland Empire is most likely not to be the last film made by Lynch, but it brings his career beautifully full circle. His most experimental (and terrifying) since Eraserhead, Inland Empire is rooted deeply in the subconscious, low-budget, unlike-anything-you’ve-seen-before territory of his first film, except with the added bonus of everything he’s learned in the thirty years between.

Heading into the future, Lynch seems content to play the American eccentric in a way that’s self-aware without being disingenuous. And he’s continually adding to the definition of who he is, extending his identity beyond cinema to include: coffee proprietor, transcendental meditation advocate, annual event host (in Fairfield, Iowa naturally), internet meme star, singer/songwriter/collaborator, and, of course, weatherman.

First Hand Rose.

Jose here to commemorate Fanny Brice's birthday. The extravagant comedienne would've turned 118 today. Yes, seriously, watching her energy in films like The Great Ziegfeld (where she played herself) or listening to her vibrant musical performances it's easy to think that this woman could've lived forever.

A New Yorker born from Hungarian parents, she made a way for herself in the burlesque world and later by her association with Florenz Ziegfeld. She became a huge musical star and a popular radio personality with her Baby Snooks character.

But what remains fascinating about Brice is that she pulled off an enviable career using raw talent. Would someone like her fit in our current notions of what makes an entertainer appealing?

Sure her life was plagued with scandal (her marriage to Nicky Arnstein wasn't as tragically romantic as pop culture has us think) and that would've fit wonderfully in our tabloid loving society. But in an industry that has shifted towards the shallow, what do you think Brice would be doing if she had appeared this decade? She would've probably been relegated to supporting performances and deemed a "character actor" and her musical career would've been stalled because she wouldn't have looked good in a thong.

Casting the brilliant Barbra Streisand as Brice in Funny Girl (which brought her a much deserved Oscar for best Actress) and Funny Lady, was one of those rare moments of Hollywood genius where you can argue everything works for the best. Sure the movies are plagued with romantic fiction and invented plot twists, but as far as star charisma and talent go, Brice, and Streisand now, are in a league of their own.

Where We're At: Supporting Actress

We haven't seen anything yet. Or not much of it at least. Particularly when it comes to Oscar's Supporting Actress race. With so many presumed giants on their way whose cast lists tilt female (Nine, The Lovely Bones, Up in the Air, Precious) it's quite possible that not one future Oscar nominee has arrived in theaters yet. That's kind of a shame for those of us who enjoy actresses year round.

If you had a ballot sitting in front of you right now, for example, and the only films that were eligible were films that had already opened (at least on the coasts -- we'll cheat and include next week's Precious) which supporting performances would be on your ballot? The pickings might be arguably slim but I'd probably choose from these ten. Which boxes would you check off?

    Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
    Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent Inglourious Basterds
    Kerry Fox, Bright Star
    Juliette Lewis and Marcia Gay Harden, Whip It
    Rosamund Pike and Emma Thompson, An Education
    Carrie Preston, That Evening Sun (and Duplicity)
    Mo'Nique, Precious

Or maybe you can't bring yourself to care yet. You're only thinking about Nine and how you hope it clogs up 150% of your personal ballot in all categories.

Recently Update Oscar Predictions: Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original and Adapted Screenplays and more

F&L: ballet slippers

First and Last is celebrating Halloween all week
with creepy images and terrifying words.

First line: a card reads "Get well soon, Mom."

Last image before the credits:

Can you guess the movie?

Highlight the following text for the answer: AUDITION for more first and last puzzles, click the label below

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LFF: Show Me, Don't Tell Me

It's the penultimate day here at the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, and after a packed day that included the Coens Brothers' latest (not written up here, but let's just say I was... disappointed), Dave came back to the internet to discover than Anjelica Huston and her starry little jury had been busy giving out prizes. Gladly the new top prize for Best Film (or 'Star of London') went to one of my personal favourites from the fest, the stunning A Prophet. The Road, which left me a bit cold despite the technical prowess and solid performances, was their "special mention". (In Contention has the full awards round-up.)

But enough about awards. I'll have my own set of prizes to dish out tomorrow, when I finish off my coverage with a review of the closing night gala film Nowhere Boy, but for today, three more capsules for you from across the globe.

You might surmise from any whispers of plot you've heard that the title of Cracks refers to, well, unsavoury things (unless your minds aren't as dirty as mine). In actuality they prove to be cracks of the metaphorical sort - an oft-told tale of an outsider appearing and shattering the status quo. Ridley Scott's daughter Jordan proves that talent might be genetic in this family's case. Her delicate, sensuous styling suits this tale of boarding school lust and jealousy perfectly, and she does it without going overboard. It's a shame the script isn't quite up to the job, really. The passable plot goes limp for too long in its middle before picking up steam again, but none of it ever really sets alight in either a tawdry or an engaging way. Eva Green, though, makes for an enigmatic, troubling character, using her European bohemian allure to play Miss G, the youthful diving coach. Green's expressive eyes work particularly to make Miss G into a deeper characterization than merely the predictable little fraud she proves to be. Scott effectively portrays the youthful mystification of adulthood, and the dangerous precipice between the two stages of life, but something about Cracks never really blooms. C+

Vincere is BIG. It's DRAMATIC. It's GRAND. Basically it wants NOTICING, and if you're not already paying ATTENTION, it's got some opera music to make your ears pound. This flourishing Italian drama centers on Ida (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the mistress-cum-wife of Mussolini (Filippo Timi), who fathers his son but, as he grows in power, is shunned and imprisoned in an asylum. Obviously such scandal is ripe for dramatization, but the stylistic approaches to the story is so cleanly sheathed in half you can almost see the join. Saturated, hued colour matches the plummy use of orchestral score flaring up when things get really dramatic, like when they have sex and Mussolini's eyes roll back into his head so that you understand he's a bit bonkers. Then we have the second half, which is the usual faded photographed and sodden despair of tone that's required by law to accompany stories of women being injustly stuck in a madhouse. There's no interest in Ida outside of her obsession with Mussolini, and there's no interest in politics at all - Vincere doesn't explore, it recites, but hopefully if it shouts loud enough you'll be convinced. (I wasn't.) D+

Has Ana Kokkinos changed much since her intensely miserablist Head On over ten years ago? It's probably easy to guess that the answer is no, or else I'd probably not have asked the question. Her latest film, Blessed, slowly descends from low evening light into pitch black darkness, but it forgets to create any kind of feeling for its characters. Split into two halves, 'The Children' and 'The Mothers', Kokkinos makes clear her point - that the relationships between the two need both to work to make them happy, and that just because you grow up doesn't mean you grow cleverer, or happier, or more able to cope with things - and that's about it. The mothers, perhaps because of the more distinguished actors playing them (Frances O'Connor, providing the most harrowing moment, Miranda Otto, and Deborra-Lee Furness), prove the more interesting side of the story. While Kokkinos comes up with a few interesting visual moments and plot points, it's hard to excuse such depressing pessimism when it only seems to exist for the sake of it. C

Mira Nair, We Still Love You

<--- Step away from the Swank, Mira!

Yesterday, innocently walking cross town, I was suddenly struck by a bolt of sympathy for director Mira Nair. It's totally turned into the Year of the Female Director (yay!) but she hasn't been able to join the party that Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Lone Scherfig (An Education), Jane Campion (Bright Star), Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) and others are undoubtedly enjoying. Not with the critical drubbing that Amelia has taken at least.

I don't like what she did with Amelia at all (my review) but I definitely wish Nair well her next time behind the camera.

I remember being totally moved by her narrative feature debut Salaam Bombay! (1988) the second of only three films from India's massive film industry to have ever received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. [Trivia: It was up against another great 80s picture, Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but they both lost to Denmark's Pelle the Conqueror]. It's a good underseen rental option the next time you're in the mood for street urchins. Step away from Oliver! and Slumdog Millionaire and give it a shot.

And then there's Monsoon Wedding... one of the richest movies of the early Aughts.

What a beautiful movie. I still listen to the soundtrack on occasion.

Curio: A Woodburned Margot Kidder

Alexa from Pop Elegantiarum here to share some creepy film craftiness for Halloween Week. One of my favorite Halloween memories is a sleepover I had with some friends in middle school. A bunch of us girls bundled up after a night of trick-or-treating to watch Brian De Palma's masterpiece of horror, Sisters, starring Margot Kidder as a set of loony French-Canadian Siamese twins. This was Brian De Palma's first foray into Hitchcock homage; really, though, it's just a solid horror flick wrapped in a mystery story (sprinkled with some humor). I still get chills when Dominique stabs her male suitor after he just bedded her sister, Danielle.

Maybe that's why I'm digging Jeff Cashvan's weird little "pyrographic portrait" of this scene in wood. Something about it just oozes horror. You can see more of Jeff's wood world here.

For Your Consideration in All Categories, INVICTUS

Clint Eastwood is coming. Hide your Oscars!

I suppose you've already checked out the trailer for Invictus in beautiful Quicktime. Soon it will be embedded everywhere in crappier looking formats. The movie, based on this true story, is about Nelson Mandela's efforts to unite a divided South Africa through rugby. The trailer and synopsis suggest that it's a two-lead film as Morgan Freeman (as Mandela) and Matt Damon (looking athletic as Francois Pienaar) work together towards making this happen. Freeman is the mastermind, Damon acts as vessel. But since Invictus is another December Eastwood Oscar lob (oops, that's a tennis term. What do they say in football?) Matt Damon will obviously be demoted to supporting for the pursuit of Oscars.

I'm not quite buying the accents they conjure for Invictus but it is only a trailer and Freeman and Damon are both hugely talented fellows. It's hard to tell about actor's voices in 150 seconds of ittybitty clips anyway. When I first saw the Amelia trailer I was nearly sold on Swank's vocal work but stretched out to 120 minutes it made me ca-razy with its strenuous affectations.

Here are the beloved stars...

It's more and more obvious that there's more community and discussion revolving around movie trailers on the web than there is on actual movies themselves. This is one of the many reasons conversation seems to die on opening weekend. So trailer madness is fitting for any Oscar discussion, unfortunately, since you know that many of the ballots are cast through a complex combination of buzz factors, hype power, the power of suggestion (sometimes literal -- like the precursor awards), industry schmoozing, the general tone of reviews... and film clips! (Yes Virginia, not every AMPAS voter watches all of their screeners, dutifully.)

Check out this random tweet about the trailer.

I think this happens more and more with trailers. Instant love. I can't say I've never experienced that. I remember falling head over heels for Milk in its 2 minute form. I mean there was no movie in sight! It was just a commercial.

Movie trailers are like frozen Buzz Concentrate. Just add water eyeballs. But, that said, it is a bit horrifying that we decide whether we love movies in their larval stage now -- we don't even wait until we get to the theater to see what's emerged from the pupa. At least that how it feels lately, buzz and hype and expectations trumping actual experience.

So I shan't say anything qualitatively about the movie (haven't seen it and a trailer is still just a trailer) except that it looks right up Oscar's alley: inspirational with an overlay of "important!" Best Picture nominee fer sure. Plus, there's the Eastwood factor. Gran Torino aside, he is, to steal from this trailer, the 'master of the Academy's fate, the captain of their soul.'

[editors note: Speaking of Clint Eastwood. The next episode of Best Pictures From the Outside In is coming up next week! "Casablanca and Unforgiven"]

And Morgan Freeman isn't without his own faithful voting block in AMPAS either. With four Oscar nominations and one win, he's pretty far up the hierarchy of the Academy's favorites. Useless trivia alert! One more winning nomination and he's actually tied with Denzel Washington as their favorite black actor of all time.

But what about you? "This trailer made me ___________" -- complete the sentence in the comments.

F&L: Trevor?

First and Last is celebrating Halloween all week with creepy images and terrifying words.

first post-credits image

last line "My god, Trevor. Trevor? Trevor?!? [SCREAMS]"

highlight the clue if you need it: The lead actress in this 90s horror hit, who had been a minor star of the 80s, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress twelve years after this film debuted.

Still stumped?
Highlight the following text for the answer... It's CANDYMAN (1992) starring Virginia Madsen.

Link Bag

Arts Beat When Woody Met Ingmar. How have I never heard this story before? Love it
Low Resolution hilarious take on the latest Twilight: New Moon trailer
i09 an interview with a Dollhouse writer on this last great episode
Culture Snob describe your taste in horror in 10 movies. Interesting take on a "best" list
In Contention Guy Lodge plays contrarian for Precious
Some Came Running gets nostalgic for gauzy Jenny Agutter and mack daddy Michael York in 70s 'classic' Logan's Run

This is the time of year when everyone who really loves movies remembers that not all of the best movies of any given year come out in the last two months of the year and it's so annoying that everyone pretends that they do
Man Made Movies the online Sam Rockwell Oscar for Moon campaign
Attention Deficit Disorderly great piece on The Hurt Locker and Jeremy Renner's Sgt. James


Metro Ang Lee on the Brokeback Mountain kiss
Dustin Lance Black (Milk) banned from a college campus in Michigan. He had too many opinions! (omg, we wouldn't want that a college!) Oh Michigan, home state o' mine. I love you but you embarrass me sometimes

Would you bite into this dead tauntaun cake? Edible intestines for your own intestines. Ewww but Yum! As much as I'm over Star Wars in my own life, I sometimes have nothing but admiration for its staunch fandom. Here's hoping one day people build whole wedding themes and desserts out of their Moulin Rouge! or I Heart Huckabee fandom! That's just two random examples of newer films worth loving and being creative with all the live long day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Red Carpet: Underworked, Overworked, Erratically Co-Worked

Did you miss red carpet lineup? Too bad, it's back anyway! Here's a random sampling of celebrities who've been working the red this past week. As always, it's chosen based on who I wanna talk about.

I didn't used to think much of Eva Green, who was looking smashing in movie star red in London for the premiere of her new film Cracks, but two things changed my mind. First, her chemistry with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and two, the shot of her flying through the air in The Golden Compass. I'm sad we'll never see more of witchy Serafina Pekkala. The further we get away from that movie the more I'm bummed that it didn't quite work. The book was so terrific but studios and filmmakers should never take on source material that's bolder than they are (this is one of the many reasons that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy worked so spectacularly. He's huge like the material). It's do or die when you've got a classic book in your hands.

I know that Maggie Gyllenhaal is a mom now but it isn't enough to see paparazzi shots of her hanging out in the West Village. The silver screen needs her. Get back to work, lady! Ridley Scott (pictured attending his daughter's movie premiere) doesn't have Maggie's current problem. He's always working. The IMDB suggests that he has 23 projects brewing as either director, producer or both. I'd hate to be his personal assistant. I'm hoping that one of those 23 movies is as good as Blade Runner or Thelma or Louise but that's like asking for the moon so, let's try again... I'm hoping that one of these 23 projects is as good as Black Hawk Down. There! Much more likely.

Finally, I sandwiched Amanda Seyfried between two respected Oscar darlings (Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore) up top. That was partially because I want her career to turn out like theirs (she's so fine on Big Love) and partially because she's recently co-starred with both of them. But I'm beginning to wonder if Amanda needs a neckbrace especially engineered for young thespians. I should explain. As an actor Amanda is yanked from Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia) to Megan Fox (Jennifer's Body) to Julianne Moore (Chloe) to Channing Tatum (Dear John)??? Think of the acting whiplash.

Tuesday Top Ten: Bite Me!

It's Halloween Week! Though a horror movie wuss I be there's one movie monster who I'll always give it up for, the vampire. Herewith: the film & television vampires who I would find most difficult to resist. (I've restricted myself to the past 30 years because there are too many I haven't seen from earlier... like those Hammer Horror films Matt was just talking 'bout). Should these 10 suckers ever come knocking, I shan't be wearing a cross, turtleneck or smelling of garlic.

I've already discussed Seline in Underworld and that hot Mexican in From Dusk til Dawn so I'm skipping them here.

10 Dracula (Gerard Butler) in Dracula 2000 (2000)
There are abundant lists of "best/sexiest vamps" on the net, but most of them go off in directions I can't support [cough Twilight... must everything be about page views? They twinkle. In the sun. Ugh]. But The Daily Beast makes a good point in favor of Gerard Butler: Ceiling Sex.

09 Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) in The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Anyone remember Donohoe? I had a friend who was obsessed with her in the late 80s. And I like vampires to be as interested in their own cruel beauty and fashion choices as they are into their dietary choices. Plus: Ken Russell makes indescribably weird movies. Or at least he used to.

08 Armand (Antonio Banderas) in Interview with the Vampire (1994)
He really shouldn't be on this list since I hate the way they handle his character in the movie and I hate the wig, too. Mostly I just put him here to get back at all of the idiot strangers sitting in that multiplex with me in Utah, circa 1994. They ruined so many movies when I lived there. The conservative audience was super vocally terrified that Louis and Armand were going to kiss in their big invitation/refusal scene. Stupidly, in complete disregard for the tone of Rice's vampire chronicles, they didn't. The homophobic audience was hugely relieved but Armand was not. That Louis, such a fang tease. Now Armand will have to find solace elsewhere (<-- that link is NSFW but I laughed my ass off when I saw it so I had to share.)

07 The Count (Jerry Nelson) in Sesame Street (1972-present)
Ever since a certain episode of 30Rock last season, I've found it difficult not to envision people as muppets (was anything more hilarious last season than Liz Lemon's muppet walk?)...even myself. Plus felt fangs would tickle more than hurt and I'm not so much into pain.

I think with the reinvigoration of the vampire genre, more competitors for this list will soon emerge. I'm particular fascinated by the idea of Julie Delpy and Tilda Swinton in those competing Countess Bathory movies. Watching either of them bathing in virgin blood would be quite arrestingly cinematic, would it not? Delpy's movie must have been finished ages ago. What's going on there? Why haven't we seen it? It can't be as bad as her last journey into the supernatural.

05 Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Still one of the most spectacularly creepy vampires the cinema ever dreamt up. Thank you Francis Ford Coppola. She's game for anything with a pulse: demonic wolf men, crying babies, Winona Ryder. In fact, her appetite would make even the oldest vampires blush... and she's barely been turned. She's also on the list because her walk is more mesmerizing than most vampire's magical stare-downs. Bonus points: the actress slept with Jude Law for many years and who needs six degrees of separation when you can narrow that down to one?

04 Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) in True Blood (2008-present)
I'm still pissed they're not letting him play Thor. Casting fail.

03 Spike (James Marsters) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (-1996)
I know a lot of people hate the way Spike took over the best television show of all time towards the end and I kind of did, too. But remember that episode when Buffy and Spike were having so much sex that the house collapsed in on them? So Much Sex. That wasn't the usual suspend-your-disbelief supernatural extraganza episode. That was a documentary about what it's like to have sex with James Marsters. I'm guessing.

02 Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) in The Hunger (1983)
I'm always horrified when she doesn't make best vampire lists in favor of sparkle-in-the-sunlight bloodless mouth breathers like Robert Pattison. Deneuve forever (which is what you get if you hook up with her as David Bowie and Susan Sarandon discovered)!

Also, to the best of my knowledge, Catherine Deneuve is the only actual immortal to have ever played a fictional immortal onscreen. Points for that.

01 Louis (Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Sure, he'd be all tortured about it but it's not like guilt-ridden sex (aka all vampiric activity) is never hot. Plus, you already know how I feel about Brad Pitt and his little death.

Which vampires would you invite in?
Even if you're not into the bloodsuckers, play along in the comment. You need to get in the mood for Halloween.

From Sundance to Rome, From Mo'Nique to Mirren

Since when did precursor season begin in October? Every year it seems to push backwards, earlier into the year, despite Oscar pushing forward, delaying itself until March this year. We've already heard from the Gotham Awards and BIFA and this past week more festival prizes came all the way from Rome and Chicago. None of this is unusual I suppose... I guess I'm just not quite ready for it for 2009. Ready for it emotionally, not physically. That's too much to go over right here (especially considering what's coming in about one months time. NBR etcetera...)

Since The Film Experience's famously favorite category is Best Actress, it's worth noting the year's wins in that regard thus far. I'm sure I'm missing foreign wins but I'm on tight deadlines. (Help me fill it out in the comments - previous error fixed. I type too fast. 75 wpm, bitches)

Sundance Festival Mo'Nique, Precious (Like Cannes, their acting prizes don't distinguish between lead and supporting)
Berlin Festival
Birgit Minichmayr Alle Anderen (aka Everyone Else)
Cannes Festival Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist
Amanda Awards (Norway) Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Iskyss
Venice Festival Ksenia Rappoport, La Doppia Ora
Sarajevo Festival
Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni, Dogtooth
Festival Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere
Ophir Awards (Israel) Irit Kaplan, A Matter of Size

Rome Festival
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
(and for the Italian Actress prize: Anita Kavros, Alaza La Testa)

Only one of these leading ladies is eligible in the Oscar race -- unless those VOD releases don't disqualify you and Gainsbourg is allowed to brutalize the gyno field -- and she'll most likely be nominated. Or she'll shoot you, obliterate you verbally, smash all your table ware. Don't mess with the Countess Sofya Andreyevna.

F&L: Tennessee

First and Last. Can you guess the movie?

first line
[singing] ...twenty letters from Paris last year
You been gone six months and I got the fear
After all the songs that we sung together...
last image

Highlight the following text for the answer: THE EVIL DEAD (1981) for more first and last puzzles, click the label below

Monday, October 26, 2009

LFF: Pander, Provoke, Perplex

More from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, where Dave had a rather dreadful day at the movies, but I've omitted tearing apart "a new Slumdog Millionaire?", Ride the Wave Johnny (which is, can you believe it, even worse than our newest Best Picture winner), and have instead finally decided to give you my (briefer than I wanted them to be) thoughts on Cannes winner The White Ribbon. But first...

Glorious 39 isn't. Glorious, that is. In fact, it's a remarkable disaster of a film, one of those that slowly goes further and further down the road of dreadful and eventually emerges at somewhere completely laughable, although I'm sure everyone involved saw the ridiculous developments as some masterstroke. Stephen Poliakoff has received critical laudings for his television work over the last decade, but there's no sign of any of that supposed quality here at all. A superb British cast, mixing promising youngsters (Romola Garai, Eddie Redmayne, and a delectably absurd Juno Temple) with seasoned performers (Julie Christie, Bill Nighy, Christopher Lee), is wasted on a story that is delivered in so hackneyed and laughable a manner that it never convinces. If you've missed ripe thriller cliches such as the message from 'beyond the grave' through a piece of film, the disembodied wails of a lost baby, or, most delightfully, our heroine becoming gothically unhinged, then maybe it is worth checking this out - it is entertaining, just in all the wrong ways. D-

Harmony Korine clearly loves his title of provocateur, for Trash Humpers is as repulsively erratic as you'd expect. However, while it slowly becomes more and more embroiled in the darkest of places with this group of elderly people - whose favoured pastime is, literally, humping trashcans - it's really less striking than it wants to be. A few moments of absurdity strike the funny bone, and a few strike the gag reflex, but mostly this is an unbearably boring piece of work, featuring actors wearing masks that make them look more like Freddy Krueger than OAPs and one with laughter so piercing I repeatedly had to stick my fingers in my ears. There's some vague point about how these people "choose to be free", all handily spelt out for us in one scene, but mostly it's an excuse for Korine to try and baffle and disturb. Instead, he merely bores. D

There's some edge taken off the clinical deconstruction usually so typical of Michael Haneke in The White Ribbon. Perhaps it's the black-and-white photography, so glowingly attractive that it's markedly different from the perverse, bare visual appeal of his other features. Perhaps it's the surprising presence of romance and acidic humour. Perhaps it's the mediation of a cypher in the uncommonly nice young schoolteacher, a inclusion that seems a bit too designed to make the audience like the film more than Haneke usually allows. Haneke's searing portrayal of the gradual undoing of a hypocritical bunch of people - in this case a small German township just before World War I - is as insidiously intriguing and deliberately constructed as ever, but ironically the attempt to make an audience more emotionally invested had the opposite effect of pushing this viewer away. The lack of conclusions, and the lack of importance in the offered solution is as effective in making the film linger as Haneke's work always is, but despite the strong ensemble work and Haneke's technical supremacy, something about the film's project feels disconnected. It doesn't quite fascinate and enthrall with the same punchy strength Haneke has made his trademark. B