Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September. It's a Wrap

I'm going to try to kick things back up several notches starting October 5th. Consider it the Fall Season Premiere of TFE. In case you missed anything from September, a slightly sparse month, here's a little 'best of'

A scene from Lars and the DeGlam Girl
"Can we talk about the abuse in your movies?"

Before There Were Websites "movies of the 80s" a scrapbook discovered
Lights, Camera, Sew! Project Runway and Costume Design in movies
"Caution: District 9" Middle America: Fear of the Shaky Cam
Cate Blanchett, Blanket Stealer Glenn wondered what she was wearing?
TIFF through the eyes of three TFE contributors: Up in the Air, Antichrist, Precious and more. Our most TIFF coverage ever.

Emily Mortimer and... Teresa Wright? The Departed at the movies
I Dream of Vera Farmiga
...and ignore her (oops)
Oprah Live Mariah Carey kicks off Oscar campaign. Really
Nine Reactions two views of test screenings
"I hear Shirley Maclaine is good" Mad Men goes to The Apartment (1960)

Coming in October: Whip It!, Deliverance, werewolves and other creature features, Streep at 60 (Continues... I hope), Maurice, Best Pictures from the Outside In: Unforgiven vs. Casablanca, more on the Foreign Film Oscar Submissions, Bright Star, Lars Von Trier and Antichrist, Precious, Where the Wild Things Are and more...

Juliette Lewis IS "Iron Maven"

Below is my fav shot from the Whip It trailer below. Ellen Page is all serious and ready to go. She's willing to sweat for her leading lady status. But it's Juliette Lewis who's hogging the attention, sticking her tongue out, coarsely flirting with the camera. The girl can't help it.

Juliette Lewis "Iron Maven" and Ellen Page "Babe Ruthless"

When I first saw the trailer, I got all tingly thinking about seeing the elusive 90s star again but resigned myself to what was sure to be a short raucuous and welcome cameo. The film has a ton of characters and surely Ellen Page (star) and Drew Barrymore (director/producer/co-star) would eat up the running time!

I am elated to report that I was wrong. Juliette has plenty of screen time as the tough chick star of the Texas derby, "Iron Maven". The actress even won considerable applause during the end credits from the appreciative mixed crowd last night (some critics, some civilians, some roller derby types).

Turns out "Iron Maven" is Juliette's best role in years. It's speaking her language baby! She knows it and, god bless Drew Barrymore, the director knows it, too. Judging from the trailer and marketing, she'll be the movie's secret weapon... until Friday at least.

I'd scream "Welcome Back Juliette!" from the rooftops but I'm a little scared of Iron Maven, and as you'll see on Friday, she doesn't like suck ups.

Whip It opens Friday, my review is coming soon.

For old time's sake...

Damn, I love that woman.


Curio: Jane Fonda Soap

Alexa here from Pop Elegantiarum, sharing an item from the film curiosity shop. Why not wash up with Jane Fonda's mugshot? (There's a joke in here somewhere about Hanoi Jane washing away her sins, especially now that she's a born again Christian, but I'll refrain.) You can find all kinds of actressy soap here.

Remembering Madeline Kahn

Occasionally I'll look through my 'labels' in the internal machinery of this blog and think "my god! I never talk about [insert actor's name here]. Why? What's wrong with me?!?" Yesterday was such a day. The great Madeline Kahn would have celebrated her 67th birthday had she not left us far too soon, ten years ago in fact. Sniffle.

"Here I stand the goddess of desire, set men on fire... I have this power.
Morning, noon and night it's drink and dancing, some quick romancing...
And then a shower."

Team Experience
So, with fond memories of the genius comedienne on my mind, I asked a couple of my guest bloggers to tell me they're favorite Madeline Kahn moments. I need help you see. Obviously I haven't expressed enough love for her right here on my own. The damning evidence: No label before today.

Jose from Movies Kick Ass perked right up at the mention of her name:
Even if she was Oscar nominated two years in a row (for two comedies! One made by Mel Brooks!) my favorite thing Kahn did was her uptight, annoying Eunice in Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up Doc? Her exchanges with Babs are terrific and how she kept a straight face is miraculous. When she has gone through all the screwball hell Streisand subjects her to-including mistaken identity- it's priceless to hear her declare "I am not "A" Eunice Burns, I am "THE" Eunice Burns!" Only she could make disdain so funny and even lovable.

Everyone falls in love with Barbra Streisand in that movie. You're not supposed to root for Madeline Kahn's character but you simply can't go against her.
Glenn from Stale Popcorn starts down a familiar path and switches course
Is it too cliched if I say "Flames... on the side of my face," from Clue? It probably is, isn't it? However, if I truly must choose something that not every blogger in the known universe as quoted at some time or another, then I will go with Kahn's performance in History of the World: Part I. Her Empress Nympho is almost (repeat: ALMOST) as quotable as her Mrs White. If I had to choose just one moment though it would be her hilarious reading of "MY TITS ARE FALLING OFF!"

had such a way with line delivery, didn't she? I haven't seen it, but I'm sure she even got a few choice lines in when she did voice work in My Little Pony: The Movie. Oh yes, I'm sure she did!
Oh please, Glenn. You totally own that DVD. ;)

For my part, I always claim that my favorite Kahn lady is "Trixie Delight" in Paper Moon. Come to think of it, I bet Kahn's filmography rivals anyone's as character names go. Think about it: Eunice Burns, Empress Nympho, Lola Hopper, Lili Von Schtupp, Victoria Brisbane, Mrs. White, El Sleazo Patron, Estie Del Ruth, Trixie Delight. You need a fearlessly big talent to create characters worth of those monikers.

So, I always say it's my favorite but the competition is stiff and in truth I haven't seen Paper Moon since I was, like, 15. It's definitely time to revisit.

Paper Moon
was only Kahn's second feature film but it brought her the first of two consecutive Oscar nominations. She lost to her co-star Tatum O'Neal, the lead who was slumming in the supporting category since she was only 10 at the time. O'Neal remains the youngest Oscar winner ever and her performance was a thing of natural beauty. But history-wise it still makes me a little sad for Madeline. Do you think she was jealous?

"I hated her sooo much, it, it the, it, flame, flames, FLAMES on
the side of my face, breathing, breath...heaving breaths, heaving"

What's your favorite Madeline Kahn performance?
And have you, like so many of us, quoted "flames... ", more times than you can count?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Messenger Messages

Tiny distributor Oscillope earned our goodwill less than a year ago by coaxing some theatrical life out of the largely unmarketable but worthy and delicate gem Wendy & Lucy. My how that film lingers. They've just released the poster for their latest release The Messenger. It's the directorial debut of Oren Moverman who previously crafted screenplays for must-see arthouse titles like Jesus Son and I'm Not There.

What message are you getting from The Messenger's poster? I think it's striking. The backwards flag in the title -- nice design element there -- leads me to believe this isn't a happy or blindly patriotic war movie. Yep, it's about an Iraq war vet (Ben Foster) assigned to the Casualty Notification service. I don't like to know any more about plots than that before I see a movie. I hope this doesn't sound callous but I hope Samantha Morton suffers like Job. (Great actors crying is the best!) The movie begins platforming in early November... supposedly with an awards run in mind.

What do you think of the quartet of actors?

If you ask me it breaks down like this: Samantha Morton can do no wrong, Ben Foster can do plenty of wrong but he can't do it without being highly watchable and that's meant as a compliment. The other two provoke less intense reactions from me. Jena Malone used to be more famous than her less talented doppelganger Kristen Stewart but the movies giveth and the movies taketh away, don't they? At least she got to make out with Jake Gyllenhaal when it looked like she was going places. As for Woody Harrelson... who let him out again. Doesn't it seem like he's in everything all of a sudden? Does he have a new agent or have we teleported back to the mid 90s?

The Chance of Filmmaker Carrera.

Jose here with some Foreign Language Film Oscar analysis.

The second to last time Mexico was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the movie was made by respected director Carlos Carrera. The film was The Crime of Father Amaro, which arguably banked in on the crush the whole world had developed with rising star Gael García Bernal and of course the controversy factor.

Mexico is counting on Carrera to get them their eighth nomination in the category with his newest film Backyard a thriller which deals with the murders of women in the bordertown of Ciudad Juárez. The "muertas of Juárez" as they've become known, have been a pressing issue for the local authorities for more than a decade now. Very little has been done to solve what amounts to more than 500 crimes (including murders and disappearances).

The film is preachy and sloppy (read my review here) but a film's quality has never been something that Academy members minded much, especially in the Foreign Language category...

With that in mind let's see the pros and cons the movie has of getting in:

  • Jimmy Smits (pictured above) has a small role as a corrupt Texan; Academy members might like seeing a recognizable face in a foreign movie (he even speaks Spanish).
  • The screenplay borrows elements from films like Maria Full of Grace, Traffic and Babel, all of which fared very well with the Academy.
  • It is based on true events (you can never go wrong with those...).
  • Goodwill from Amaro, voters will automatically assume it deserves a nomination.
  • The film's star Ana de la Reguera gives a deglam performance that will have them screaming Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank.
  • The movie feels important and will make Academy members feel guilty if they don't feel it's important.
  • The film is just not very good at all, it tries to fit into several genres only to end like a pastiche of social causes, TV thriller and telenovela.
  • The issue, sadly, hasn't been well received by the film world (does anyone remember Bordertown with J. Lo and Antonio Banderas? Yeah, I thought so) and even the movie stresses out about how it isn't even seen as a real issue by some groups.
  • Reviews have been far from stellar in its home country.
  • The subject will be too gruesome for some voters who often go for orphan kids, WWII redemption dramas and light comedic fare in this category.
Has anyone else seen it? If so, how do you think it will fare up against contenders from eighty other countries? The deadline for Foreign Language Film submissions is tomorrow.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Which scene... which movie made you laugh as hard as you've ever laughed at the movies. And then some. (Did you have to be there or is it just as funny now?)

Biggest Doc Ever?

Jose here with some box office news. Reuters is reporting that Michael Jackson's This Is It has broken advance ticket records all over the world.

The documentary/concert film spans the rehearsals of Jackson's eponymous "comeback" that would've taken place in London before the entertainer's sudden death.

In cities like Los Angeles and New York, fans waited outside in line for days before the tickets went on sale yesterday morning. In Tokyo, the film sold $1 million in advance tickets. With the undying passion of Jackson fans could this eventually become the highest grossing documentary of all time? This genre hasn't been particularly lucky in the money making department.

The highest grossing documentaries stand as follows:

1. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore) $119,194,771
2. March of the Penguins $77,437,223
3. Earth $32,011,576
4. Sicko (Michael Moore) $24,540,079
5. An Inconvenient Truth $24,146,161
6. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore) $21,576,018
7. Madonna: Truth or Dare $15,012,935
8. Religulous $13,011,160
9. Winged Migration $11,689,053
10. Super Size Me $11,536,423

(numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo)

Most of the films in the list deal with sociopolitical or nature subjects. The only film dealing with a celebrity (the Queen of Pop ironically) was released almost two decades ago, so it's not easy to predict how the box office will adjust to Jackson.

His death is the biggest news event in the world so far this year (several media outlets discussed how much was too much with more serious issues affecting the world) and Sony Pictures -- who bought the footage days after his death and rushed to deliver the movie -- are pushing it to become the worldwide movie event.

But honestly, how much is too much in this case? Where does a film studio cross the line between money-making thirst and appreciation for the audiences? (an album with the music that "inspired" the movie is already on its way out with original album masters of some of Michael's biggest hits arranged in the same sequence as they appear in the film...) They can argue that they were trying to make it up to all the fans who didn't get to see their idol live, but for others this might just seem a distasteful move to bank in on a tragedy.

And how will movie critics react to the film? As of today-at this hour at least-there are no official reviews for the film on the web and what will happen if when they come out they're not positive? Does the sensitivity of the subject matter affect how a movie is reviewed by professionals? This is one movie to keep our eyes on, as it's sure to give lots more to talk about. Have you already bought tickets?

Bright Star Reminder

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep...
New Contest Reminder! I've got two books of John Keats poetry to give away to faithful readers to commemorate the release of Jane Campion's Bright Star. To enter, send me an e-mail by September 30th with "Poetry" in the subject line containing the following info

*your name (and nickname)
*your mailing address
*the name of your favorite poet and who should play them in a biopic ;)

The winners will be drawn randomly.

And while you're in contest mode, you should know that there's a poetry contest over at the Bright Star site where you can submit a love poems of your own composition

My thoughts on the movie are coming soon. In short, I'm very fond of it. Bright Star is currently playing in major markets with more to be added. Has it opened where you live? If so and you haven't seen it, what's holding you back. Go!

"Rotate the Pod Please, Hal"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Project Runway @ the Movies: "Lights, Camera, Sew"

I've always wanted Project Runway, which wields the word "costumey" around in the same dread way that American Idol invokes "broadway", to embrace costume design and hold a movie themed episode. Now that they're located in LA, they finally came through for me.

The designers at a real soundstage, hearing the challenge. For the record I'm:
rooting for CarolHannah, drooling on Logan and expecting a Christopher win.

If you've seen the show, you'll know that Heidi Klum always kicks things off by wrapping that brilliant accent around a happy preview of the episode's content. To hear her chirpily declare "movie making!" before the ADD editing team cut to the challenge was bliss in 4 syllables. Unfortunately many of the costumes weren't bliss in 4 seconds.

The contestants had to fight over the following five genres (only two people to a genre)
  • Film Noir
  • Period Piece
  • Western (nobody wanted it!)
  • Action / Adventure
  • Science Fiction
And, yes, I was terribly disappointed that my favorite genre Women Who Lie To Themselves was not represented. What?! That's totally a genre! It's a genre in my DVD library at least. But seriously, I really think they should have nixed Period Piece, which was way too broad, and thrown in Musical for a good cross section of movie genres that bring costumes too mind.

Ra'mon, the one who previously loved Lindsay Lohan too much, enthusiastically expressed his devotion to Science Fiction, stating
I grew up watching sci-fi. I know all about Star Trek and Star Wars and everything inbetween
What exactly is inbetween them... Space: 1999? Chronologically it is at least.

But listen, I knew Ra'mon was in trouble the second he name-checked those two franchises since even a blind person would reference them if sci-fi came up. Fashion designers can't be blind. If you're a fashion designer referencing sci-fi, you're doomed if Blade Runner isn't the iconic film that pops into their mind. Especially if you've opted to design a snake-woman jumpsuit as Ramon did. I'm convinced that if Ramon had only thought "Joanna Cassidy as 'Zhora'" rather than "reptile woman" he would not have been Auf'ed at the end of this episode.

But back to the movies.

I've said it before and I'll preach it again: the Academy's costume design branch not nominating Blade Runner (1982) is the single stupidest decision they've made in my lifetime. The second stupidest might be the Far From Heaven (2002) snub. I can't breathe when I think of those two films for all the WOW that's happening.

Let's look at the other designs and the sometimes strange notions these designers had about the movies. Let's start with Film Noir.

Louise's design (40s meets 20s) and Althea's design

Both designs remind us of film noir NOT AT ALL. They definitely don't scream femme fatale. Althea's is pretty but uninspiring and Louise's "convoluted mess" pushes her into the bottom three. Louise, who I sometimes think is trying to steal Karina Longworth's look, picked the most delicious genre and then totally messed it up by going for a story about a girl in the 40s attending a costume party as a girl from the 20s.

In a consultation viewable only on Runway's official site, Louise tries to explain this character, an aspiring actress who is eager to escape her mother, to the always wise Tim Gunn. He says "This isn't Vida from Mildred Pierce is it?" Much to my horror Louise laughs, shrugging, "I don't even know who that is"

Let this be a lesson to everyone: Movie ignorance is dangerous. It hurts us all. It can even ruin your chances to win a reality television competition! For, if a fashion designer such as Louise was familiar with the great Mildred Pierce they'd never make clothes this boring when assigned Film Noir as theme.

Am I right or am I right?

Action/Adventure yields the dullest results, just think Angelina Jolie in both Mrs & Mrs Smith and Tomb Raider, done and zzz. Period Piece offers up a split result that's quite telling: one designer goes for technically accomplished but sometimes unexciting accuracy, the other opts for something stylized, ahistorical and purely 'character' focused; and isn't that the way Hollywood's costume designers actually split when it comes in Period Pieces in general?

As for Western, the genre that has as much trouble staying popular as the Musical, we have mixed results. The saloon girl is expected. Epperson's design, however, once he gets past the notion of The Western = John Wayne, is cool. He goes for a tough frontierwoman (far left above) and it's nicely imagined, both period and fantastically modern in a way I haven't seen since, well, that awesome jacket that Ben Foster strutted around in in 3:10 to Yuma (see previous post).

Here's the winning design and its hilariously convoluted concept.

I love it but I'm less shocked by the idea of a snowy villain in white than the judges seem to be. Hallo, Tilda Swinton in The Chronicles of Narnia. Not that long ago.

My favorite part of this episode was the chance to hear from Arianne Phillips. If you haven't read her recent profile in NY Times, I'd head right over to it. She's a fascinating Madonna-influencing woman and one of the best costume designers going. Consider her filmography: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line and the upcoming eye candy fest A Single Man.

It came as no surprise to me that Arianne was also an incisive and thoughtful judge. Listening to her thoughts on how fabric reads for the camera, the importance of multiple flattering angles and compatible creativity from the makeup department, I felt like I was attending a Costume 101 class. I was hot for teacher.

School me Arianne. Give me loads of homework.

Polanski's Arrest

Have you heard about Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland? The news confused me as I tend to view Switzerland (generically / ignorantly) as a place of wealthy neutrality. I also tend to view the auteur's ongoing US legal problems through three lenses:
  • art (we need him making movies, please)
  • the documentary Wanted and Desired (so eye-opening about his circus-like trial)
  • that interview with his grown victim Samantha Geimer around the time of The Pianist's release (she didn't seem to be harboring much -- any actually -- in the way of vengeful 'lock-him-up' sentiment).
Such a touchy subject.

The following tweets -- some from film blogger types like final girl and lucas mcnelly -- are neat summary illustrations of how quickly/differently people respond to anything Polanski, The Art/The Man related.

How are you feeling out there?

[Semi tangent: I'll admit I'm feeling exactly like Lucas... manly because this week I became obsessed with the idea that there's only a couple of handfuls of directors left who seem to understand how to use a freaking camera (slighly OT: Nathaniel has been very angry lately at the tyranny of closeups and ping pong over-the-shoulder filming of all dialogue scenes even from supposed "masters". There are many ways to position a camera. It doesn't have to be a close-up every time an actor has a line of dialogue! Sometimes you need to see the room, sometimes the actor who's being spoken too, sometimes where the actors are standing in relation to each other, etcetera. Switch it up, people. For god's cinema's sake.]

Eat, Pray, Julia.

here with a confession: few things nowadays get me as happy as the idea of a new Julia Roberts movie (yes, I'm slightly easy to please sometimes). So you can imagine the excitement this month has provided for me! First was the cute, and star studded, trailer for Valentine's Day (what do you mean you haven't seen it? Do so now!).

And today the web is bursting with Julia in saris, flower necklaces and bodyguards as she begins shooting Eat, Pray, Love in the town of Mirzapur in northern India. The movie, directed by Ryan Murphy, is based on the eponymous novel by Elizabeth Gilbert and tells the story of a divorced woman who travels across the world to regain her inner peace.

But back to Julia, The Indian Times reports
Wearing a purple kurta, black salwar and rudraksha beads, she completed her first day's shoot for a Hollywood film in Pataudi on Sunday (Sept 20), living up her role every bit! One scene had her eating rice, chapati, aloo-gobi and muttar-paneer the Indian way - with her bare hands.
She's just like the rest of us...

The Associated Press also commented on Mrs. Moder's Indian visit and how she was all the rage amongst the villagers of Mirzapur where young boys climbed trees and villagers crowded rooftops. Is it me being morbid or does this remind you of Slumdog Millionaire a bit?

Fortunately for Julia the film kicked off with the rightfully blessed foot as Indian priest
Swami Dharam Dev offered prayers for the whole cast and crew. He also gave Julia's children the names of Indian gods [he] named her twins Hazel and Phinnaeus as Laxmi and Ganesh, while Henry will be called Krishna Balram.

The movie is set to open in 2011 and also stars Javier Bardem as the man she falls in love with, Billy Crudup as the man she was in love with, Viola Davis as yet another rom-com best friend and Richard Jenkins.

(photographic src)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Single Actress (Julianne Moore and Oscar)

There can be only one ...winner, that is.

This year's supporting actress contest (new predictions!), if you believe early hype, is down to Mo'Nique vs. ummmm? She's way out front for her abusive mother role in Precious. But with Julianne Moore's supposedly vivid contribution to Tom Ford's A Single Man newly exciting festival auds, we could see the redhead goddess nab her 5th career nomination. That's quite an honor, even if she never wins that elusive statue.

The Man That Got Away Keeps Getting Away

A couple of years ago I asked readers who the next Deborah Kerr would be. Which modern important actress will be forever appreciated but never fully embraced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Back then Kate Winslet was sort of gunning for the honor. Now that the English Rose has noisily moved into the winner's circle, the imaginary competition is back on. Although maybe it's no competition at all. The honor (?), at this point, thoroughly belongs to Glenn Close. She's much further away from winning an Oscar now than she ever was before, having abandoned anything like a substantial movie career.

Julianne may have another golden opportunity in the near future as the lead of the western drama Boone's Lick (previous post) but by the time the next next Oscars roll around she'll be 50. And we all know how unlikely it is for women over 50 to win Best Actress. It's only ever happened 8 times in 81 years and 3 of those times the woman's name was Katharine Hepburn, furthering lowering the statistical odds for women of a certain age. Since Julianne so often toggles between supporting roles and lead parts, maybe we should call her the next Deborah Kerr (6 Lead Actress noms / 0 wins) AND Thelma Ritter (6 Supporting Actress noms / 0 wins) combined.

Either way, it's just an honor to be nominated. And a pretty substantial honor to be nominated so many times. Even if you should, like Julie Ann, already have 2 gold boys on the shelf. If Moore pulls off this fifth nomination on February 2nd, 2010 she'll be in the very elite club of actresses to have been honored 5 times or more.

The Top 27 Oscar Women
  1. Meryl Streep (15 noms, 2 wins)
  2. Katherine Hepburn (12 noms, 4 wins) deceased
  3. Bette Davis (10 noms, 2 wins) deceased
  4. Geraldine Page (8 noms, 1 win) deceased
  5. Ingrid Bergman (7 noms, 3 wins) deceased
  6. Jane Fonda (7 noms, 2 wins) out of retirement - yay! Now where are the Big Drama roles?
  7. Greer Garson (7 noms, 1 win) deceased
  8. (tie) Jessica Lange and Maggie Smith (6 noms, 2 wins)
  9. (5 way tie and all of them are still working regularly -- someone will break this tie) Sissy Spacek, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Ellen Burstyn (6 noms, 1 win)
  10. (Oscarless tie) Deborah Kerr & Thelma Ritter (6 noms, 0 wins) both deceased
  11. (tie) Elizabeth Taylor and Olivia de Havilland (5 noms, 2 wins) both retired
  12. (7 way tie) Cate Blanchett, Audrey Hepburn deceased, Shirley Maclaine*, Anne Bancroft deceased, Jennifer Jones retired, Susan Sarandon Norma Shearer** deceased (5 noms, 1 win)
  13. (Oscarless tie) Glenn Close & Irene Dunne deceased (5 noms, 0 wins)
*Re: Shirley. We're only counting acting nominations here. She has 6 in total but one is not for acting.
**Norma Shearer could also be considered tied for 9th depending on how you count her double nomination.

Actresses with fewer nominations are too plentiful to list... but Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson and Frances McDormand are looking like the current (only?) threats to the esteemed company above. That should give you a clue as to how rare 5^ nominations truly is in Oscar's 81 years.

Think Julie will pull it off on February 2nd?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Re: Creation

Dave here, with a bit of a sneak peek of sorts. Conveniently enough, news came today that Charles Darwin biopic Creation, which had been said to be without a distributor, has been picked up by Newmarket for a December release in the US - a company that, as everyone and their mother has already pointed out, is most famous for releasing The Passion of the Christ. A December release suggests they're going for the awards on this one - but hold your horses. The British release date was today, and, like a good little film scholar, I went along to the first screening at my cinema to check it out.

Of course awards don't necessarily equal quality all of the time, and vice versa, so for all I know Creation could still be in with some kind of shot, but on initial impressions it looks doubtful. It's a competent, polished production, but that's about the best I can say for it. It's a bit dry. It's generally unilluminating. It's slightly cloying. Most of all, it seems rather misguided. It was no surprise to learn, as the credits rolled up, that it was based on a book called 'Annie's Box' by Randal Keyes (Darwin's great-great grandson). For the film, posited in the trailers as mainly a religion versus evolution debate filtered through Darwin and his wife Emma, is actually mainly concerned with the spectre of the Darwins' dead daughter Annie. This adds very little to the subject at hand, and the only thing that stops this dominating aspect of the film from being a complete disaster is the charming performance from young Martha West (daughter of The Wire's Dominic West, trivia fiends).

Ariane Sherine's recent article in The Guardian points out the film's Hollywoodized flaws but is ultimately full of praise for the fact that it "contains one of the most robust defences of atheism and agnosticism ever to appear in a mainstream film". It has to be said that the parts of the film that draw most strongly on this are the film's more interesting passages. Jennifer Connelly, as ever, has little to do but cry and look pained (please, for the love of Darwin, someone give her something different to do), and Sherine perhaps goes a bit too far when she suggests that "Emma is a complex yet ultimately sympathetic God-botherer", but the struggle between Emma and her husband still provides the more intriguing drama here. Not hard, since the effect of Darwin's work on the society it was released into isn't explored at all (the film sticks closely to the Darwin family), and even the work itself is just about skimmed-over. It's a film that tackles both religion and perhaps the most important scientific document ever written, but without really looking them in the face. In the grand old Hollywood tradition, it's easier, and less controversial, to filter it through slightly histrionic familial drama. Throughout, there's that niggling thought that the topic should be tackled with more guts, more impact. But, in the end, they need it to sell.

But enough ranting against the industry. This is an Oscar-obsessive's blog, so my final words will be on that subject. Beyond Christopher Young's immensely classical score (so much so I wondered if it weren't simply selections from the 19th Century), I'd say any hopes here rest with Paul Bettany. He's really quite good, and it's fantastic to see him back in a role that demands from him, and, moreover, that he delivers in. Darwin's struggle between a lingering faith, his love for his religious wife and his conviction in his revolutionary work seems more delicately painted thanks to Bettany's subtle, shifting performance. You understand Darwin, you like him, and most importantly you sympathize with his dilemma - and this is from a person coming at it as probably more of an atheist than Darwin himself was. Bettany's natural chemistry with real-life spouse Connelly, and the charming rapport with Martha West, make the drama believable, and the time passes in a pleasant way, but there's nothing remarkable, nothing memorable about this. It just exists.

Fame, Bruce vs. Bruce, Tilda...

The theme song sounded like wishful thinking at the time but some dreams do come true. FAME! It really *is* going to live forever. The Fame franchise (what else is it at this point?) began life as a gritty teen drama with music in 1980. It morphed into a family-friendly Emmy nominated television series from 1982-1987 spawning vinyl albums (oh, nostalgia) and tours. Eventually there was an Off Broadway reinterpretation and now, as is de rigeur in Hollywood, a "reboot" with the same performing arts nyc high school setting albeit new characters and teachers (including Broadway/TV great Bebe Neuwirth and "Karen" herself Megan Mulally)

The desperately eager performing teen genre didn't begin with Fame...unless there's a lost classic of the same name starring Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland disintegrating in some basement somewhere...

Read the rest over at Towleroad for a few brief notes on this week's new releases, Bruce Willis vs Bruce Willis' Surrogate, Tilda Swinton in I am Love and more...

Some People You Might Know (And Some You Might Not) Are Receiving Awards!

Glenn here from Stale Popcorn here. Nathaniel is still sick (I know what he's got, I had it a couple of months back and it lasted weeks!) and when the going gets sick the sick get to bed. Or something. Let's move on.

I like to consider myself a fairly good follower of awards season, but there are organisations that I admit I have to plead ignorance over. The Gotham Independent Film Awards is one such example. I don't think, in the eight years (or so) that I've been following the Oscars, that I have ever actually figured out who these people are. And yet year after year they seem to throw up such a wonderful, varied and oft left-of-centre list of nominees for their annual awards. Misunderstood or just-not-loved-enough titles like Margot at the Wedding, Marie Antoinette, Frozen River, Me & You & Everyone We Know and others have had the Gotham's spotlight shined on them, so I'm all for them in this world where every organisation is seemingly in sync with every other one.

This year they have tipped their hat to several major players in the 2009/10 Oscar game with career tributes. The biggies - the ones that the more casual film observer will care about - are director Kathryn Bigelow and actors Stanley Tucci and Natalie Portman. While it may seem strange for someone as young as Portman to be receiving anything resembling a "career achievement" tribute, a quick scan of her filmography shows a nicely eclectic roster and one that puts many actresses of her generation to shame.

"What? ME?! Yeah, I'm down with that!"

While it has yet to be seen whether her performance in Jim Sheridan's Brothers will find itself of Oscar's radar, there's no doubt that Bigelow and Tucci will be putting on their finest threads more than a few times in the coming months. Bigelow, riding high on the success (critically, if not at the box office) of The Hurt Locker, is prime for the career achievement spin. Her resume may not be as long and strewn with award winners as some others, but it's very impressive. Say what you will, but movies like Near Dark, Strange Days, Point Break and Wild Palms are all fantastic pieces of work.

"Yeah, I'm amazing. You know it."

Tucci will surely pique the interest of Oscar voters with his turns in Julie & Julia as well as Pete Jackson's upcoming piece of awards bait, The Lovely Bones. I thought he should've been nominated for The Devil Wears Prada, but I think that's just me. Is anybody else disappointed that his directorial career never really went anywhere after the fantastic Big Night? I'm surely not alone on that thought.

"Finally, Meryl Streep hasn't upstaged me!"

Two other names on the press release from the Independent Film Project are Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. You probably don't know their names (I sure didn't!) but consider this incredible list of films that they have produced or executive produced as the co-chairmen of Working Title Films: Atonement, Bridget Jones' Diary, Dead Man Walking, Elizabeth, Fargo, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Gettin' Square, Pride & Prejudice, Shaun of the Dead, Tales of the City (TV), thirteen and United 93. Plus they also have the big Coen Bros' contender this year in A Serious Man, and that's just scratching the surface.

And, hello! Drop Dead Fred! How could anybody forget that work of art?

Congratulations to all involved. It won't be the last time you hear from them though, that's for sure!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sir Ian in San Sebastian

Congratulations to one of our favorite humans in the known universe, Sir Ian McKellen on his lifetime achievement award at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Sir Ian, ham [photo src]

I feel like I've been seeing Rebecca Romijn every time I turn on the telly this month and each time I see her I think of her wondrously catty chemistry with him when they were Mystique & Magneto. They're almost the only thing I enjoyed about that awful third X-picture.

As you may have heard earlier today, Sir Ian plans to reprise his Gandalf role if*/when Guillermo Del Toro starts filming that two part feature adaptation of The Hobbit

*I'm less hopeful than others that all will go well on the legal side of these movies.
Apparently the latest lawsuit was settled but doesn't it seem like legal complications *keep* arising? Plus I'm just nervous. Two movies? Why?? The Hobbit is not that overstuffed.

Which movie... you consider chicken soup for the soul?

yes Nathaniel is still crawling out from under the worst flu evah. I don't recommend catching it. Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of sleep and take vitamins and exercize! P.S. A big thank you to the reader who sent me an email consisting of a photo of chicken soup and a photo of Hugh Jackman from Australia. You are too kind / funny and you know who you are.

60 Spectacular Almodóvariffic Years

JA from MNPP here, briefly wishing the director Pedro Almodóvar a happy 60th birthday today. His latest film, Broken Embraces starring Penny Cruz, opens here in NYC in 57 days! Coincidence? Well that'd be a lousy coincidence if so since there's nothing much coincidental about it besides the vaguest proximity of numbers. Anyway! Embraces opens here on November 11th, in Los Angeles on December 11th, and presumably trickles inward from there. Not that we Americans are precisely on the winning end of its release schedule - it's been out in Spain since March! But at least we're not Australia or heaven forbid Japan! Heaven forbid.

I know that Almodóvar is an actressexual's dream director and lavishes his female muses with the juiciest of roles and story-lines and outfits (oh those outfits), but I am going to take this moment to give a little affection towards something a little different that's integral to my appreciation of the Almodóvar Cinematic Experience - mainly, these three somethings-a-little-different:

Gael Garcia Bernal in Bad Education

Liberto Rabal in Live Flesh
Oh yes. Liberto Rabal in Live Flesh was especially important to my conversion as that was the first Almodóvar film I saw and looking at Rabal I knew straight away that in Almodóvar I had found someone that shared my... interests. So thanks for these and the many other pleasures your films have given us, Pedro! And here's to many, many more to come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Would You Rather...?

A) Watch Annette Bening murder her children?
B) Watch Charlotte Gainsbourg mutilate herself and possibly Willem Dafoe while grieving her dead child?

It's a cheery choice for this Wednesday morning. Good morning!

Sadly option A, which is like the only thing I've been thinking about, is not open to me. Annette Bening playing baby-killing Medea (just the thought of it makes me all tingly... er... The Bening in a juicy ancient tragedy not the killing part, obvs) is only available on stage in California. Go West East Mrs. Beatty, Go East! So this morning I'm doing option B at the New York Film Festival press screening of Von Trier's latest provocation / prank (?) Antichrist.

This is probably not the best first day out plan whilst recovering from the worst flu ever, but it will have to do.

What's your day looking like and which options await you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009