Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June. It's a Wrap

June ends. Now we just have to make it through the two hottest months of the year. I'm melting. Here's the best of June in case you missed anything. I have no idea why summer makes me so nostalgic but there was an awful lot of 80s happening this month at the blog.

Woody and Buzz and other Toys we played with this month!

Jamie Lee Curtis is Perfect a deep immersion into 80s culture. Put on your unitard.
"I Heard Of It" why people flock to reboots, franchises and crossovers.
Earliest Cinema Memory: JAWS... albeit a second hand memory.
Conviction (née Betty Anne Waters) A trailer overview: Supporting players, Swank, and loveable loathsome Tony Goldwyn.
Cocoon: Cinema's first Viagra joke Because I couldn't help myself

Tony live blog & fashion review Broadway's big night honored film stars.
Death Becomes Her in which Meryl Streep spoofed her past and pointed to her future.
Alejandro: The Fun & Folly of Appropriation Something a bit different, a video review.
Career Lessons from Angelina Jolie a review in posters.
Take Three Craig's series took on the dramatic (Miranda Richardson), comedic (Jennifer Coolidge) and true character (Thelma Ritter).

As for current cinema, one can hardly blame me for retreating into the past this month. Mainstream movies at least, were eager to keep us in the 80s. Even June's big deal opener Toy Story 3 (my review) plucked the heartstrings of our collective ancient history aka The Nineties... and our childhoods in general.

Coming in July
I had to push the book group "Cast This!" back a week (July 7th now for Scar Night). A few "Halfway Mark" articles are coming recapping the year thus far. We'll also wrap up "Streep at 60" (just a few films to go) and share more Screen Bitchery. Plus, an interview with Julianne Moore! New films to argue about: Salt, The Kids Are All Right, Inception. Old films we'll be discussing (put 'em on your queue): Elmer Gantry, Doctor Zhivago, The Best Years of Our Lives, Driving Miss Daisy & more. Stick around and spread the word.

Let's Link Together, yeahyeahyeah, think of all that we could sha-are.

Tyler Coates shares my favorite personal anecdote post of this past week. Yay, Parent Trap.
Peel Slowly offers up several examples of movies recreating paintings. Neat stuff.

Material Girl Yes, it's true. Madonna's firstborn is now a (fashion) blogger. She loves all things 80s apparently like 4realz. Believe it or not I threw a first birthday party for Lourdes (aka Lola) in 1997 with my roomie at the time who was also a Madonna man. Our apartment was packed -- anything Madonna themed you know -- and we gave all the donations to a local children's hospital. So, see, one can use celebrity obsessive powers for good.
Movie|Line "9 dates that will shape the rest of 2010."
I Need My Fix Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green are now married in case you hadn't heard or cared.
In Contention Tree of Life is Apparition's sole 2010 release now. "And who knows if we'll even see it in 2010," Nathaniel the cynic adds.

Anita Kunz
She's one of my favorite illustrators and she drew 100 nude male celebrities for an artshow in Toronto. How funny. This is but a 3% sample. But if you're in Toronto, go see it. Report back.
Eye Scoop Excuse me, how had I not heard that Christophe Honore was doing another musical with Ludivine Sagnier and Louis Garrel (from Love Songs)! So excited. That film just grows on you.
Cinematical Peter Sarsgaard goes Bluegrass.

A Blog Next Door suggests you watch TiMER on Netflix Instant Watch and so do I. Anya!
Wonder Woman has a new look. I'm sure this will be applauded widely but I can't help but worry that it's one more step in completely genericizing all superheroes. Watch it turn into black form fitting armory leather for the movie which all superheroes seem to be wearing ever since they held a mass costume designing conference in 2000 and decreed that The Matrix and The X-Men were the new standards for f/x costuming.
The Awl
a conversation about The Twilight Saga: Eclipse that has to be more entertaining than the movie.

Finally, Towleroad alerts us to a rare moment of levity in the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Elena Kagan. The "Edward vs. Jacob case"

I don't even know what to say...

P.S. If you've been following me on Twitter, you already know that I met Julianne Moore today. Yes, yes, I'll tell you all about it soon enough. I have to process first. [gulp] I reached out my hand to shake hers and... she hugged me!

Who's Up For Hugo

JA from MNPP here, with a bit of casting news hitting the internet today. Martin Scorsese's gathering up his cast for Hugo Cabret, his adaptation of the apparently popular book by Brian Selznick, and you might recognize one or two of them.

Jude Law. Frances de la Tour. Sacha Baron Cohen. Richard Griffiths. Christopher Lee. Ray Winstone. Ben Kingsley. Asa Butterfield. Helen McCrory. Not pictured is Chloe Moretz of Kick Ass and the unnecessary Let the Right One In remake (but the less I say about her the better).

Hey look, History Boys reunion!

Not that those two haven't already done the Harry Potter thing. They are English actors, after all. Anyway, since I haven't read the book I only have a couple of points to make. Firstly, Martin Scorsese is working with Christopher Lee. Secondly, Martin Scorsese is working with Christopher Lee. Okay I guess that's all I got. It makes this horror-geek's head happy though.

Anybody familiar the book? I'm assuming the chance to fetishize George Méliès it promises is what drew Scorsese to the material, no? Now that he's won his Oscar it's nice seeing Marty loosen up again (even if I wasn't too keen on Shutter Island).

Hayward on My Mind.

Jose here.

Today is the anniversary of Susan Hayward's birth (she would've turned 93). Browsing through her filmography it struck me how conflicted I am regarding her acting. Despite her extreme beauty (what did they feed these women back then?) I find her acting slightly hammy sometimes and rather inexpressive on different occasions.

Hayward was nominated for five Best Actress Oscars and perhaps the reason for my slight discontent with her is that in a way, she created the "easy way to an Oscar nod". Let's take a look at the characters that got her Oscar's attention and the reasons why AMPAS couldn't resist to nominate her:

1946 Angelica 'Angie'/'Angel' Evans Conway in Smash-Up, The Story of a Woman
Angelica is a club singer who marries a rising performer, gives up her career and becomes an alcoholic. The plot is loosely based on the life of Dixie Lee, Bing Crosby's first wife.
(AMPAS buttons it pushed: alcoholism, deglam, suffering wife, performer, semi biopic)

1949 Eloise Winters in My Foolish Heart
Eloise is a wife reflecting on the twists her life has taken. Based on J.D. Salinger's short story Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.
(AMPAS buttons it pushed: suffering wife, decade spanning drama, famous song, literary pedigree)

1952 Jane Froman in With a Song in My Heart
Real life singer Froman had a terrific career in film and song, until she was almost killed in a plane crash in 1943. She overcame adversity in every possible way and went on to have a fruitful life and career (Froman even outlived Hayward).
(AMPAS buttons it pushed: famous song, decade spanning drama, deglam, biopic, overcoming tragedy)

1955 Lillian Roth in I'll Cry Tomorrow
Roth was a real life Broadway star who overcame her mother's domineering and becomes an alcoholic after the death of her fiancé.
(AMPAS buttons it pushed: do I really have to point them out at this point?)

1958 Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (pictured left)
Real life prostitute, drug addict and manipulative Barbara Graham gets convicted for murder and executed.
(AMPAS buttons it pushed: biopic, murder, jail, decade spanning drama, deglam)

Hayward finally got her Oscar for this role and was never nominated afterward. So now do you see my point? Hayward was great at this sort of campy melodramatic, fictionalized biopics but her career can't help but leave a bittersweet aftertaste.

Perhaps we wouldn't have instant wins for the Reeses, Marions and Charlizes if it weren't for Hayward. Or maybe I'm just rambling. What's your take on this?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Open Thread

What's on your mind? Tell us. I'll go first. I just saw The Kids Are All Right again and I love everyone's performances even more on second viewing. The Bening is so going to be Oscar nominated. How about you? What movie / actor / people, place or thing is racing through your brain right now?

Curio: Artist Yu Ling (a.k.a. Lucy Liu)

Alexa here. Apart from her role in the late series "Dirty Sexy Money," we haven't seen much of Lucy Liu in a while. Then, earlier this month, a painting signed with the name "Yu Ling" was included in the Bloomsbury Auctions 20th Century Art and Editions sale. According to its description the painting, titled "Forever Goodbye," was also signed with the name Lucy Liu. At an estimated value of $25,000 – $30,000, it remains unsold.

Yes, Yu Ling is actress Lucy Liu's alter ego, a painter, photographer and mixed media artist. She's slipped her work into the 2009 Armory Show as Yu Ling so that it would be judged on artistic merit (and maybe so that it be viewed as the work of an undiscovered Chinese artist). But she's also sold her work under her given name to garner attention and support UNICEF with the proceeds.

Lucy has said her pieces are inspired by China, in particular Hong Kong. Pleasant and inoffensive, they also appear to owe much to Neo-Expressionism. Here's a sampling.

Stephanie Reading, 28 x 48, oil on glass

Diplopia, 72 x 84, graphite on paper

Roxy, 74 x 88, mixed media

Sherry, 20 x 24, oil on canvas

Best Pictures: Dances With Wolves & The Lost Weekend

It's been nearly six months since the last episode of the tri-blog series Best Pictures From the Outside In. At this rate we'll be done in 2021! Literally. "Stay tuned!!!" Nevertheless we're finally back with a new installment pairing 1990's Dances With Wolves & 1945's The Lost Weekend.

and comment on that discussion there.

Since those conversations are rarely about the Oscar field but just the winners, I thought I'd share a few quick words on 1990 and 1945 right here. I've noticed in my own lists over the years that the further back in time I go the more I agree with Oscar's choices. I'm guessing this is not a case of Oscar once having better taste (i.e. mine - haha) but simple math. I've seen more films from the modern era so the chance of disagreeing grows. For instance, Oscar's best picture field for 1990 was composed of...
  • Awakenings
  • Dances With Wolves
  • Ghost
  • The Godfather Part III
  • Goodfellas
Which was almost nothing like my list at the time (though I hadn't seen Goodfellas) which went like so back in the day...
  • Edward Scissorhands *winner*
  • Ghost
  • The Grifters
  • Longtime Companion
  • Postcards From the Edge
I'm not sure I could stand by the Ghost cheese 20 years later or Longtime Companion (I don't remember it well) but the other three have had staying power in my brain and in movie culture, too.

My decrepit ancient copy of Inside Oscar is filled with color markings -- I once used the book to track my film viewing. Certain years have highlight markings all over the film titles. The 40s are my weakest decade but strangely 1945 is all marked up. I'd rank the Best Picture nominees like so
  1. Mildred Pierce (Such a goodie. Watch it before the Kate Winslet remake arrives)
  2. Spellbound
  3. Anchors Aweigh
  4. The Lost Weekend
  5. The Bells of St. Marys (the first sequel nominated for Best Picture and the only BP nominee from '45 that I haven't seen. But I didn't really care for Going My Way so I'm in no rush)
I love those first three so I'm fine with Oscar's list. But is that because I've seen so little else from '45? I wonder, if I saw 100 films from each film year before my time, would my taste rarely align with Oscar's? Have you ever wondered about the same thing? A "yes" answer means hidden gems and new favorites await you in every single film year should you only start to look for them.

Now, read our boozy bender with Kevin Costner over at Nick's Flick Picks.

DVDs: Percy Swordsman and the Crazies: The Raging Machine

I feel abso-schizo looking at the new releases from this week and last. Every variety of film seems to be accounted for. Whatever will you make me watch? Previous write ups from this reader request series (my version of DVD on Demand) include: Bad Lieutenant, Fantastic Mr Fox, An Education and The Road with Doctor Zhivago still pending (I'll get to that one soon).

But the new stuff...

  • The Crazies (horror)
    A town in Iowa (where Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell live) goes violently insane.
  • Creation (biopic)
    Paul Bettany & Jennifer Connelly play the Darwins in this science vs. God marital drama.
  • Don McKay (indie thriller)
    Thomas Haden Church rekindles an affair with Elisabeth Shue but darkness looms.
  • Green Zone (action)
    Matt Damon is a rogue army officer in this action thriller set in Iraq.
  • Hot Tub Time Machine (comedy)
    John Cusack and friends travel back to the 80s through a hot tub accident. You know how these things happen.
  • The Last Station (period drama)
    Stormy Helen Mirren, mustache twirling Paul Giamatti and virginal sexpot James McAvoy fight over the dying Russian legend Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer)
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (fantasy)
    In which a teenager discovers he's the new wannabe Harry Potter son of a Greek God. But shouldn't Uma Thurman as Medusa be the headline?
Medusa with iPhone | Hot like Mexico. Rejoice.
  • Raging Sun, Raging Sky (queer)
    A Mexican man searches for his abducted lover in this award winning erotic drama.
  • Return of the One Armed Swordsman (1969 wuxia)
    A famous action extravaganza about a retired swordsman recalled to action by the sons of ransomed clan chiefs.
  • She's Out of My League (comedy)
    Jay Baruchel can't believe his luck when a gorgeous gal is interested in his geeky self. I'm confused... hasn't he ever been to the movies? Gorgeous movie gals are always into nerds.
  • A Star is Born (1954 musical)
    James Mason is a fading star and Judy Garland a rising one in this oft told showbiz tale.
  • The White Ribbon (parable)
    Michael Haneke's German children's tale about a village suddenly plagued with troubles.
  • Wolf Moon (lycanthropic / straight to dvd)
    A country girl falls for a drifter. But she doesn't know what happens during a full moon.
Of these films I've already seen The White Ribbon (admire but don't love), The Last Station (liked at first but major fast fade) and A Star is Born (♥ I purchased it already. newly restored) but since I've written none of them up proper like, I figured I'd include all of them.

So, whaddya say? Make your case in the comments to sway other voters.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"And waste all this good coke?"

[Great Moments in Screen Bitchery #949, Demi in St. Elmo's Fire (1985)]

Heh. I am going to be very disappointed if that isn't the title of Demi Moore's forthcoming memoirs. I'm just saying.

Some context for those too young to have seen Demi's 80s breakthrough, released twenty-five years ago on this very day. Joel Schumacher's St. Elmo's Fire is a story about a group of college grads who are struggling through their quarter-century life crises together. Jules (Demi Moore) is the messiest (and most fabulous) of them all. In the middle of the night she calls her most responsible friend in a panic. "I'm with these Arabs and they've been forcing me to do coke all night. I'm not sure because I don't understand much Arabic but I think I heard the word gangbang. You've gotta come and get me!" He rushes to her rescue only to find a tame unthreatening party. She refuses to leave with him and starts making booty calls instead. He tries to reason with her, until she lobs that delicious dismissal his way.

"And waste all this good coke?"

I have loved Demi Moore ever since. Which was not always a wise life choice, but what can you do? We love the actresses we love.

Because I can't quit there -- this movie is so addictive -- a Monday Monologue from the same film.

Uptight Leslie (Ally Sheedy) and Frumpy Wendy (Mare Winningham) have convinced Wild Jules to eat lunch at the soup kitchen where Wendy volunteers. This is not, shall we say, Jules' natural environment. It turns out her girlfriend's have an intervention in mind. They're worried about her obsession with her stepmother and her crazy-making sexual dalliances.

"Moi?" Jules asks, caught off guard. After a quick silent beat with a flash of 'how to navigate this?' worry on her face, Demi unleashes Jule's defensive fabulousity posturing.
Forrester? Come on, he's wonderful.
Forrest is her married boss. But she's got it all figured out.
This is the 80s. Bop him for a few years. Get his job when he gets his hand caught in the vault. Become a legend. Do a Black Mink ad. Get caught in a sex scandal. Retire in massive disgrace. Write a huge best seller and become the fabulous host of my own talk show.
"Well, it was silly of us to worry," Wendy says in disbelief and the kind of snark-free sarcasm only found prior to the late Nineties.
It really is. He's helped me so much. He's come up with so many alternatives for my stepmonster's funeral.

It turns out cremation is just as expensive as the non torch method and if I don't come up with a cheaper solution, I'm going to end up a bag lady...

Of course I'll have alligator bags.

A head toss, the laugh of the self-amused and then a look at the time get me the hell out of here avoidance of the real issues she's just been so flippant about.

And she's outta there... and every time she's outta there the movie deflates a little. Demi's comedic skills are underrated and paired with that famously husky voice and needy screen energy, she turns out to be the perfect match for this charismatic trainwreck.

A parting shot just to underline Jules' trying-too-hard fabulousity -- this is her apartment.

Art Direction by William Sandell / Set Decoration by Robert Gould & Charles Graffeo

Naturally she's wild about her decorator "Gay became very chic in the Seventies!"

How To Fix The Oscars... Advice From Wimbledon

You probably don't know this but I love tennis. So this afternoon I was reading about Wimbledon and saw Towleroad's account of Novak Djokovic ripping his shirt off after a win.

Novak Djokovic

This is a common sports occurrence (see also soccer i.e. football and swimming events oh, right. uh...) and we enjoy it and think that people should do this at the Oscars, too.

Shouldn't the thrill of victory always* prompt people to tear their shirts off? I mean, consider recent Oscar wins...

Such dramatic possibility.

(And not just because those gowns would be dangerous when dismantled. So much flying beading.)

Maybe that's all the "fix" the Oscars need?

*Exception: The only thing I've ever won was a spelling bee in junior high. I did not rip my shirt off. But spelling is not sexy like tennis or movies!

Overheard (Grown Ups Buyer's Remorse)

What did you see over the weekend?

Do tell.
Strangely, I went movieless.

Well, except for that weird couple of hours where I accidentally left the TV on and kept hearing and glimpsing an absohideous Rob Schneider "movie" (not to be confused with brillz Roy Scheider!) in the background. Something involving him having animal parts.

I bring this up because:

a) This same weekend, whilst innocently waiting for my bestie in the lobby of a theater -- airconditioning. we weren't seeing a movie but Gay Pride bar hopping -- I experienced the horror of a grown gay man telling complete strangers that he had just bought a ticket to Grown-Ups (also starring Schneider)
"Yes, I know it will be stupid.

Maybe I should have bought a ticket for the Joan Rivers documentary instead?"
Ya think?

b) I am hoping to create a false replacement memory by retrovicariously enjoying your movie weekend instead. Help me! How was it?

"When Captain America throws his mighty shield..."

"...all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield ♪ ♫"

He lost his headwings

Today Captain America: The First Avenger is supposed to start Principal Photography. Or that's what they were saying a month ago, June 28th. Just thought you'd like to know.

I'm still confused about the Marvel movie universe logic wherein Johnny Storm, "The Human Torch" is also Steve Rogers, "Captain America". Perhaps Chris Evans is like Sybil, Eve or (The United States of) Tara and he has multiple (heroic) personalities within? Maybe he should star in The Crowded Room next? That movie feels like it's never going to get made. Development hell for, what, 8-10 years now?

But... superheroes. Remember when they used to have to pad the superhero costumes so the actors looked cartoonishly fit/muscular? Now they just cast people like Evans and Ryan Reynolds. No special effects required.

On the less bulky front, over the weekend the finalist list for the new Spider-Man was talked up. Exactly how many times are we going to hear that there's a final -- this time they mean it! -- finalist list before someone is cast? This is, what, the third time? On that list we encounter the same Chris Evans multiple personality problem.

A type emerges...

I am apparently the only person alive still bothered by an actor starring in multiple similar franchises. They're considering Chekov/Kyle Reese, Percy Jackson and Kick Ass to play the webslinger here. When I go to the movie theater to see Spider-Man I don't wanna be thinking about Star Trek, Terminator or Kick-Ass. I wanna be thinking about Spider-Man! Why is this a difficult concept? It'd be like if Sarah Michelle Gellar was asked to star in a werewolf hunting role. No, no, no. She kills vampires, see? I'm fully willing to enjoy her as another character besides Buffy but not another powerful woman in some supernatural setting, you know?

This is why, as previously stated, I can't stand seeing Samuel L Jackson anymore despite once enjoying him. He's starred in so many actual or would be f/x action franchises now (10+ by my last count) that he takes me right out of whatever movie I'm watching, even non-franchise movies. He's a factory worker and all genre movies coming down the conveyor belt must be fitted with some Jules Winnfield before they are shipped out to the public. It makes everything generic/interchangeable.

So I'm rooting for Jamie Bell or Andrew Garfield as the new Spidey because they don't have much baggage and they only really make me think of Jamie Bell and Andrew Garfield and those aren't unpleasant reference points at all. Though if they wanna hand us Michael Angarano (who we were just watching) or Ehrenreich I suppose that'd be okay, too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

do you have the time?

Take Three: Jennifer Coolidge

Craig here with another Take Three.

Is there not a hint of Mae West's bawdy style? A splash of Bette Midler's brash cheek? A glint of Raquel Welch's gilded glamour? Even a dash of Lucille Ball's daffy demeanor about Jennifer Coolidge? Let's leave out the Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith associations; they're old, lazy and boring. Coolidge is the new doyenne of daft.

Take One: Blonde ambition

Legally Blonde (2001) was all about Elle and la vie en rose of course, but it took just enough time out from its lawyerly pursuits to make way for a little bit of solid support: Jennifer Coolidge's manicurist, Paulette Bonafonté, assists Elle into the pink; Elle, in turn, teaches Paulette the ways of the Bend & Snap. Coolidge's comic timing is impeccable. And whilst she doesn’t have a great deal to do in the film her characterful scenes with Witherspoon were fun. Coolidge lifted the slightly jaded, what-has-the-world-given-me? veteran of love type to brazen, buxom heights. The film made good use of her comedy credentials - she gave Legally Blonde plenty of bend and a lot of snap. Wouldn't it have been great to have her in nearly every scene?

She has her fair share of fun dialogue. "I'm just a middle-aged high school drop-out with stretch marks and a fat ass" is Paulette's line in resigned philosophy. But the obvious catty joy Coolidge revels in as she delivers "so what's this Vivian got that you don't have - three tits?" gets my winning vote.

Too much snap! Too much snap!

Paulette's tragi-comic yet cheerful naivety was a great asset to the film. We need her there as contrast, a timorous foil for Witherspoon's youthful perkiness; she's the older, though maybe not-the-wiser, generation Elle; and at heart a mouse in a lioness body. Watching Coolidge in the film got me thinking - wouldn't she be perfect choice if someone were to do a comedy remake of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? I'd back this casting. It'd be a dream lead role for this deserving supporting actress.

Take Two: My stepmother is an AA-lien

Herzog's recent The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans (2009) was, cast wise, a treasure trove of future Take Three contenders: you may well see Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, Irma P.Hall or Brad Dourif receiving thrice the love here soon. But Coolidge was the really unexpected cast addition, so she claims this one. I must have been looking elsewhere during the opening credits (playing spot the reptile?) because I didn't know she was in it. But I was happily surprised to see her pop up as Nicolas Cage's boozy stepmother. She bucked her familar trend of blonde ditz-queen here and worked wonders in a rare serious role. (Maybe the connection is that Coolidge has a house in New Orleans, and she may have desired a spot of home work.)

Sacrificing her trademark flirty pout and all trace of make-up in the name of artistic endeavour she's almost unrecognisible. It's a small but interesting part. Whether she's trolleyed on beer, teetering on the edge of her dilapidated mansion's verandah, whilst facing off with Cage, or engaging in a lengthy slagging match with Mendes, Coolidge is wholly convincing in the film as a drugged-out, beer-stewed former babe. She added another facet to her career. And more power to her for taking on such an uncharacteristic, vanity-free role.

Jennifer (moon)shines despite the lack of visible glamour in Bad Lieutenant

Take Three: Best on show in Best in Show

"We both have so much in common. We both love soup. And, er, we love the outdoors. And talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever... and still find things to not talk about."

Some old guy, Rhapsody in White and Jennifer in Best in Show

Ah, the ways in which Coolidge, as Sherri Ann Cabot, one of Best in Show's (2000) many competitive dog owners, is endearingly funny ("Ya know what, I'm the one having to push him away"). She appeared in two other Christopher Guest com-sembles (A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration) but she delighted most in this one. It's a role not a million miles away from Legally Blonde's Paulette (if it ain't broke, don't fix it, eh?) - and it seemingly aped Anna Nicole Smith's penchant for, erm, the more mature man - but Coolidge lends a fresh charm to Sherri Ann, and essays the role with a poised, spaced-out affability.

You can see early on how Sherri's heart just isn't in it; she loves her dog, not her husband - but could she really care less about show trials? It's no wonder she finds love with Rhapsody in White's trainer Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch), for whom she provides "unconditional love... and decorative abilities". Sitting on the sidelines and chipping in with an ad lib or two may look easy, but is tricky to get spot on. Coolidge nails each scene and very nearly steals the whole movie.

She's given so many wonderfully jubilant turns in both film and TV. Stick a pin her richly-comic résumé then sit back and bask in the sheer joy of watching a Jennifer Coolidge performance. It's a pleasure to praise solid comedic (and occasionally dramatic) support when it's carried out with such cheeky abandon and effortless good humour. I'd willingly watch her in anything.

When's Jennifer going to get a starring vehicle of her own to shine in?

In Just Three Days...

... I'll be granted an audience with god (aka Julianne Moore) to talk about The Kids Are All Right.

I hope that I don't pass out. In actuality, I have met the ravishing redhead once before in 2002 (my how time flies) and did not keel over. But I was rather incoherent. The only full sentence I managed was something along the lines of "I hope you win the Oscar". When I meet her again -- this time for an interview -- perhaps I should apologize for jinxing her chances. We all know that when I truly obsess over an actress she never wins (Pfeiffer, Deneuve, Bening). The exceptions to this rule are the actresses who won their Oscars BEFORE I was born or before I became obsessive (Streep, Fonda, La Liz) although sometimes I even curse those women retroactively through my amazing time travel/Oscar jinxing powers (Judy G, Marilyn, Natalie).

What would you ask Julianne Moore?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reader Request: THE ROAD

Let's just say this right up front. Watching John Hillcoat's The Road (2009) again in the midst of weeks of news reports about the BP oil spill is an entirely different experience than watching The Road during the mad holiday rush when it premiered or earlier still. It takes on a whole new coat of thick dread and sad relatability. This clings to the film as tenaciously as dirt clings to Viggo's weary face. I would add compassion to its new layers but the film always had a robust heart beating underneath the ash, toxic slush and malnourished skin.

Though Joe Penhall's screenplay adaptation preferences more backstory than the masterful Cormac McCarthy novel, it still sidesteps the imagination-deficiency of Hollywood that usually leads to a distracting amount of exposition. Backstory can be useful in small doses but the complete terror at leaving anything to the audience's imagination has ruined too many modern films. It's a relief to see some corrective.

In the case of The Road, it's important for us to know that the apocalypse happened; The amazing art direction (which I probably should have nominated in my personal awards) and shots of a sickly yellow light outside a window, is enough to convey the end of the world. But it's equally crucial that we don't know why said apocalypse happened. This is more realistic (if the world as we know it is suddenly destroyed, chances are the survivors will be utterly confused) and leaves the movie open to complete immersion for any viewer, transcending all political biases.

I, for instance, imagine that any future apocalypse will occur due to either fanatic religious types who just can't swallow the "live and let live" concept or from our systemic political problems which always value corporate profits over the health of our fellow men and the planet (see also: BP oil spill and "drill baby drill" madness, An Inconvenient Truth, etcetera).

But if you were the opposite type of person, say someone who believes in the sanctity of an unregulated market or someone who is deeply religious, or someone who is Sarah Palin, your imagined apocalypse will probably come from other places. There are certainly people out there who think that the apocalypse will come from God because he's angry with people for loving the "wrong" gender, you know?

But no matter.

If or when the world ends, none of these distinctions will matter. The only thing that will matter to anyone is survival. And even that won't be an attractive option. Charlize Theron playing "woman" for example isn't too keen on it. I don't think I would be either, though it'd surely be awfully hard to drag yourself away from Viggo Mortensen. Especially if he was whimpering and begging for you to stay.

"Spend one more night with me. Why.. why do you have to go?"

Theron seems to be willing herself to become the female embodiment of misery with her film choices of late -- when do we ever see her smile? -- but she's good at it. Viggo Mortensen, on the other hand, is a straight up miracle worker.

Is there a famous actor alive who is this masculine yet utterly non-posturing about it? As an actor he can access incredibly soft places that lesser men could never approach without hedging or diluting self consciousness. Viggo's always front and center and as a result The Road becomes a unique animal, a tender apocalyptic drama. This genre tends to go for the jugular with manly brutality. That's kind of flattering machismo posturing itself, letting audiences know that only the strong survive and our hero happens to be THE STRONGEST.

"I won't let anything happen to you. I'll take care of you.
I'll kill anyone who touches you. Because that's my job."

Viggo and screen son Kodi Smit-McPhee are paired well and the papa/child emotions run deep enough that the movie ends up feeling far more brutal than most apocalypse-set films. For this time you can see the death of goodness, or softness, or "the light" if you will, in danger of being snuffed out forever. That's more brutal than any physical violence.

The best things about The Road when it first arrived such as the fine acting from all corners (though the film isn't exactly crowded), smart art direction and a judicious filling out of the novel for the big screen are still intact in the film's second life for home viewing. Unfortunately for all of The Road's rather significant strengths, it was doomed from the get go in measuring up to one of the best novels ever written. For instance, how could the film possibly match the book's final paragraph [SPOILER] which contains such a genius literary flourish, abandoning the characters for a poetic and nearly abstract memory of trout in a stream. [/SPOILER].

And oh, how I wish the movie hadn't had a score. Though the compositions by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are fine on their own terms as musical elements, a score is the wrong choice for the movie, hobbling its otherwise disheartening emptiness. If ever a movie needed to go without music it was this one. The recurring reminder of "Papa"'s relationship to music, those painful shots of the family piano in a couple of scenes, would be a thousand percent more devastating if the piano and memory scenes were the only notes we heard, music dying along with the rest of the world. Think of that potent moment in Cast Away when the music finally returned to the film as Tom Hanks escaped his island prison? That would never have been as rousing and cathartic had we been hearing a score the whole time. That film stumbles more often than The Road does, so I don't mean to compare the latter unfavorably. But it's hard not to imagine that The Road could have been a truly stark miserabilist classic with more commitment to the withholding of traditional movie comforts.

(up a notch from previous grade)
P.S. If you haven't read the novel, do so immediately. It's an all time great.

Top Ten: New Academy Members 2010

it's not Tuesday but it's time for a Top Ten anyway... as this is yesterday's news already!

AMPAS used to hide their membership roster like the vote tallies but in the information age, they've opened up. Now we get to see the whole list of new invitees each year. I wonder how they keep they're membership around 6,000 given how many people they invite annual. Maybe enough people reject the offer, stop paying their dues, or pass from this mortal coil each year to balance it out?

You can read the full list of recipients at Indiewire, but as is the Film Experience tradition, we like to pinpoint the newest (potential) members whose future ballots we'd most like to see. So let's have at it.

New Academy Member Ballots We Most Want To See

10 Bono & The Edge (music)
They're two separate people but we'd like to imagine them filling out their ballots together inbetween sets. We'd like to also imagine that they'll have better taste than the rest of the often confounding music branch.

Bob Murawski (editor)
We love his work on The Hurt Locker and the Spider-Man films and he's a fellow Michigander. Extra points for that. Plus editing happens to be the most fascinating category in terms of how one judges it? How do you know how well an editor is doing if you can't see all the unused footage? And are they really that obsessed with just choosing the movies they love as their nominees or are their individual ballots so very individual that only the absolute common denominators are able to rise up to snag nominations, the common denominators being the pictures people love most, regardless of editing skill (i.e. Best Picture nominees)

08 Laura Rosenthal (casting director)
It's the job I'm personally most jealous of in Hollywood. I assume the casting directors can only nominate in the Best Picture category but in a way, shouldn't they have a say in all four acting categories? Their very business is studying actors and deciding who is best... for the part. Some interesting things on her resume: The Messenger, Chicago, I'm Not There, Far From Heaven and Savage Grace. It's worth noting that this woman was smart enough to give Samantha Morton her first two American gigs (Sweet and Lowdown and Jesus's Son)

07 Janet Patterson (costume designer)
Her filmography is short but damned if her accomplishments aren't tall. Consider: Peter Pan, The Piano, Oscar & Lucinda, Bright Star, Holy Smoke!, The Portrait of a Lady. She should already be an Oscar winner by now but after four nominations, it's nice that they're extending an offer. Strangely, the Academy's costuming branch is so small that last I checked it wasn't even listed among their categories. Are there really more makeup artists in AMPAS than costumers (click here and scroll down to bottom of page). If so, why? But then again, maybe my numbers are out of date.

06 Peter Sarsgaard (actor)
He finally wore down their resistance. That Shattered Glass (2003) snub still stings years later. He works a lot and even if we're starting to want him to truly surprise us again (we fear he's going to become a Ben Kingsley i.e. a great actor who shamelessly phones it in for too many paychecks) we like him. Who will he vote for? Besides Maggie & Jake.

05 Adam Shankman (director)
He's had experience in producing, acting and directing and was a key player in this last Oscar ceremony. We don't mean this in a judgmental way but he strikes us as the type that will vote for his friends. But he seems to have so many of them that won't he have to snub most of them each time he votes? Does having a million friends, mean voting for your friends doesn't really compromise your ballot? Now, Academy members can only nominate in the category of the branch they're invited to join (as well as Best Picture... then they can vote for the winners in most other categories when the final ballots go out). So this means that he'll be able to have his say at who did the best directing job each year. We love Hairspray and we don't begrudge him Academy membership -- he's a serious power player -- but as a director? Wouldn't he be a better fit for the producer's branch?

04 Zoë Saldana (actor)
This All American beauty (of Dominican/Puerto Rican descent) was probably invited due to those back-to-back blockbusters (Avatar, Star Trek) but if you stop to consider that she's acted opposite everything from green screens (Avatar and the like) to wood (Britney Spears, Crossroads) and on to A grade thespians like Johnny Depp and Sigourney Weaver she probably knows a thing or two about the acting process in all its iterations. And having recently singled out Tang Wei in Lust, Caution as one of her favorite performances, we know the girl is discerning and willing to look beyond Hollywood for "best". AMPAS could use more of that. We would love to see her nomination ballot in all four acting categories this coming January.

03 Jacques Audiard (director)
This French auteur's last three features Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and A Prophet have all crackled with intelligence, electricity, fine acting and interesting choices. Now being great at something is not the same thing as being great at judging it... but it surely can't hurt. We're always curious about AMPAS's foreign outreach. How many of them say yes to membership and when they do, how international are their ballots compared to, say, Ron Howard's... or Adam Shankman's for that matter?

02 Vera Farmiga (actor)
Her breakthrough, critically speaking, came when she won the LAFCA Best Actress prize for Down to the Bone (2004). Incidentally that film was directed by Debra Granik, who's currently helping Jennifer Lawrence break through with Winter's Bone (2010). Will more actresses line up to work with Granik? That'd be a smart move. It took the Academy another five years to notice Farmiga. Given her frequently fine rapport with male co-stars, we're actually more curious about how she'll vote for the male acting categories than her own. We know she loves Michael Fassbender so... points for that. But the real reason she's ranked so high is those crazy eyes. What do they see? We like to theorize that people with crazy eyes are actually crazy. And crazy is way better than same ol' same ol' when it comes to awards balloting.

01 Mo'Nique (Actor)
Admit it, she'd top your list too. On account of what the hell would that ballot look like? Her already legendary performance in Precious showed previously hidden depths so maybe she'll be able to see it in others, too? In addition to her being an atypical Oscar winner (they don't usually go for female comics) we're intrigued by whether or not she'll take the process seriously given that when last year's race first began she seemed famously disinterested. Will that initial skepticism make her one of those types that just votes for her friends, or doesn't vote at all or even refuses membership? Or will she just crack herself up like she does onstage while she scribbles down outlandish performances? Or did the Oscar journey, which culminated in that beautiful shout out to Hattie McDaniel's history-making win for Gone With the Wind (1939), convert her to the importance of the legacy of Hollywood's High Holy Night?

The rest of the lists if you're curious [source]

 Tobin Bell (Saw), 
Miguel Ferrer (Traffic), 
James Gandolfini (In the Loop), 
Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), 
Mo’Nique (Precious), 
Carey Mulligan (An Education), 
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Mother and Child), 
Peter Riegert (Traffic), 
Sam Robards (American Beauty), 
Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, pictured left), 
Adam Sandler (Funny People), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Shaun Toub (Iron Man), 
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), 
George Wyner (A Serious Man)

 Ken Bielenberg (Monsters vs Aliens), Peter de Seve (Ratatouille), 
Steve Hickner (The Prince of Egypt), 
Angus MacLane (Toy Story 3), 
Darragh O’Connell (Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty), Simon Otto (How to Train Your Dragon), Bob Pauley (Toy Story 3), 
Willem Thijssen (A Greek Tragedy)

Art Directors/Set Decorators/Production Designers:
 Kim Sinclair (Avatar), Dave Warren (Sweeney Todd), Maggie Gray (The Young Victoria), Douglas A. Mowat (The Sixth Sense), 
Caroline Smith (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), 
Kirk M. Pertruccelli (The Incredible Hulk), 
Edward S. Verreaux (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)

 Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker), 
Christian Berger (The White Ribbon, pictured left), Hagen Bogdanski (The Young Victoria), 
Shane Hurlbut (Terminator Salvation), Tom Hurwitz (Valentino The Last Emperor), 
Dan Mindel (Star Trek), 
Tobias Schliessler (Hancock), 
Stephen Windon (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), Robert Yeoman (The Squid and the Whale)

Costume Designers:
 Catherine Leterrier (Coco before Chanel)

 Juan Jose Campanella (The Secret in Their Eyes), Lee Daniels (Precious), 
Claudia Llosa (The Milk of Sorrow), Lone Scherfig (An Education)

 Nancy Baker (Born into Brothels), 
Rick Goldsmith (The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers), Davis Guggenheim (It Might Get Loud), Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water), 
Cara Mertes (The Betrayal), 
Frazer Pennebaker (The War Room), 
Julia Reichert (The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant), 
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me)

Film Editors:
 Robert Frazen (Synecdoche, New York), 
Dana E. Glauberman (Up in the Air), Joe Klotz (Precious), 
John Refoua (Avatar)

Live Action Shorts: 
Joachim Back (The New Tenants), 
Gregg Helvey (Kavi)

Makeup Artists and Hairstylists:
 Kris Evans (X-Men The Last Stand), 
Jane Galli (3:10 to Yuma), 
Mindy Hall (World Trade Center), Joel Harlow (Star Trek), Jenny Shircore (The Young Victoria, pictured left)

 Christophe Beck (The Hangover) 
T Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart), 
Brian Tyler (Fast & Furious)

 Frank Eulner (Iron Man 2), Adam Jenkins (I Love You, Man), Tony Lamberti (Inglourious Basterd), Dennis Leonard (The Polar Express), 
Tom Myers (Up), 
Paul N.J. Ottosson (The Hurt Locker), Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire), Gary A. Rizzo (How to Train Your Dragon), Michael Silvers (Up), Gwendolyn Yates Whittle (Avatar)

Visual Effects:
 Matt Aitken (District 9), Karen Ansel (Angels & Demons), 
Richard Baneham ( Avatar), Eric Barba (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Paul Debevec (Avatar), Russell Earl (Star Trek), 
Steve Galich (Transformers), 
Andrew R. Jones (Avatar), Dan Kaufman (District 9), 
Derek Spears (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), 
Steve Sullivan (Avatar), 
Michael J. Wassel (Hellboy II: The Golden Army)

 Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious), Nick Hornby (An Education), Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek), 
Tom McCarthy (Up, pictured left. He's also an actor), Roberto Orci (Star Trek), Terri Tatchell (District 9)

At Large, Executives, Producers & Public Relations
 Christopher W. Aronson, 
Jim Berk
, Philippe Dauman
, Sheila DeLoach
, Donald Peter Granger
, Nathan Kahane
, Andrew Karpen, 
Ryan Kavanaugh, 
David Kosse
, David Andrew Spitz
, Emma Watts, Stephanie Allain, Gregory Jacobs, Jon Landau, Marc Turtletaub, Glenn Williamson, Dwight Caines, Suzanne M. Cole
, Tommy Gargotta
, Sophie Gluck
, Josh Greenstein
, Pamela Levine
, Wendy Lightbourn, 
Michele Robertson, 
Tony Sella, Darcy Antonellis and John Lowry

Which ballots do you want to see?
Do you think anyone will reject the offer?