Monday, April 28, 2008

Make One Wish...


Today it's Penélope Cruz's birthday.
The Oscar nominated, Spanish beauty celebrates her 34th year on Earth (it's necessary to mention the planet because you never know what her former, lunatic, beau told her).
So here's hoping Penélope has a wonderful birthday and that she wishes for more work with Almodóvar, a long steady relationship with Javier and maybe just maybe that Best Supporting Actress Oscar next year.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kill me now!

It's official...
Read the news.

Someone get Cate this now!


I ran into this article and realized that if it ever got made into a film or something, it should earn the lovely Ms. Blanchett a ton of awards.
Someone please get it for her, before that sly, female in a male role loving, Hilary Swank does.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Watch or Die.


Turns out the best filmmaking so far in 2008 isn't playing in any multiplex or art house near you. It's not even on DVD yet, instead it's airing on HBO.
The fact that the life of John Adams, second president and underrated founding father of the United States of America, is so fascinating, engaging and thrilling should be as hard to believe as the idea that there was actually a time when the country was being mishandled, attacked and abused as it now does to other countries.
This miniseries however proves just that. Spread in seven magnificent parts, each one more intense and absorbing than the previous, "John Adams" is the kind of filmmaking that reminds us of the times when movies were deemed as "events".
With a scope that's both epic and personal, the miniseries covers the life of Adams and through his eyes examines the first fifty years of actual American history; from the Boston Massacre, passing through the signing of the Declaration of Independence (the scene where it's edited to have the appropriate words is brilliant), the first inauguration ceremony (which invites to patriotic fervor regardless of your nationality) and even the construction of Washington D.C. (which leads to a bittersweet observation on who its builders were).
Paul Giamatti leads the flawless ensemble playing Adams like a man who just wants to do good, but not the kind that ought to get you canonized or praised, but one that emerges from a deeper global consciousness. Suddenly it's not so curious why Adams has been so disregarded by history.
The glorious Laura Linney plays his wife Abigail, providing her with such a strength that you wonder how didn't the actual Abby live to be two hundred years old. Linney and Giamatti have a special kind of chemistry that makes their respect for each other the foundation of the real love between the Adams'.
They call each other "friend" which surprisingly makes for a beautifully romantic gesture that moves anyone to tears.
The extense supporting cast includes the always brilliant Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin, Stephen Dillane (who is fantastic!) as Thomas Jefferson and Sarah Polley as John's daughter Abby.
Directed by Tom Hooper the film is painstakingly detailed, but never selfconsciously painful.
And while praising the miniseries for its technical achievements, ensemble and crew might be enough, the driving force behind it (obviously powered by the aforementioned) is its fiery, emancipating spirit.
To find the present in the past should be more than enough to invite change into a decaying world that crumbles under its actions, but fails to acknowledge its mistakes and finally understand that history does repeat itself.
That a film strives to create historical conscience is as admirable and brave as you can get in any art form nowadays.
"Posterity you will never know how much it cost us to preserve your freedom" says Adams, before adding "I hope you'll make a good use of it, if you don't I shall repent in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it".
More a bittersweet reminder than an angered accusation, "John Adams" makes us believe in a time when the USA had actual reasons to call itself the greatest country in the world.

Over Her Dead Body *


Director: Jeff Lowell
Cast: Eva Longoria Parker, Paul Rudd
Lake Bell, Jason Biggs, Lindsay Sloane

Kate (Longoria Parker) is a control freak who can't even relax on the day of her wedding to Henry (Rudd).
While running around supervising everything and making things go her way she suffers a freakish accident that kills her.
One year later Henry still hasn't moved on, so his sister (the awkwardly charming Sloane) takes him to visit Ashley (Bell) an aspiring medium, who doesn't succeed in contacting Kate, until he falls for her.
From then on, the film turns into a preposterous, unfunny catfight between the dead and the living.
The fact that the plot seems to be a mediocre "Ghost" ripoff isn't as offensive as the clichés and stereotypes it reccurs to create a plot.
Director Lowell exploits every single element that results enfuriating instead of funny, including a distasteful gay subplot with Biggs' character.
When it comes to Longoria Parker, who gives more of a glorified cameo than a real performance (and not a very good one at that either...) the film seems to punish her for her strong, empowering beliefs.
If Lowell thinks that the easiest way to change his characters' ideals is to have them wacked, the person with the problem might not be the one in front of the camera.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bra Boys *


Director: Sunny Abberton, Macario de Souza

The Bra Boys are a Sydney surfing gang named after the suburb of Manoubra where most of them live.
The most prominent family within this community are the Abbertons; three brothers who were raised by their grandma and best represent the escape from pain provided by surfing.
Done to show the side of surfers few people know, the film (which in a moment of selfcongratulation was directed by one of the Abbertons) comes off looking as a poorly constructed, aimless PR video that unintentionally achieves satire qualities which would be genius in "The Simpsons".
When one kid says that his mom allows him to skip school in order to go surf and later you see another of them proudly talking about how he defended his stash of ecstasy pills before giving them up to an armed thug you don't know whether to laugh or be shocked.
What remains most distressing though is the unabashed sincerity with which the events are shown and the Abbertons inability to see why they're tagged and discriminated. When talking about community values between the surfers we see home videos of them lighting each other on fire, putting firecrackers in another's pants and smashing beer bottles around, while a song with the lyrics "we like to fuck around" plays in the background. Yet to them this is the group they grew up in and the one they call family.
The documentary as a whole perpetuates the stereotypes that surfers are trying to run away from. If these people leave drug filled homes and grow up to become professional surfers who get involved in police riots and murder, you don't really know how they have the guts to defend themselves with a feature length film.
During one of the movie's dramatic archs, Jai and Koby Abberton get involved in a trial for murder. Filled with slow motion and dramatic music the camera follows Koby who decides that he will fill his time between court appointments to go surf the most dangerous waves in the world.
Intended to be seen as a liberating metaphor, the events come off as scarily irresponsible and selfish, especially when you consider that Jai's trial (which had a stronger charge) is all but remembered during these moments and is brought back only when the plot needs another arch.
The film, narrated by a barely there Russell Crowe, begins with a short recap of how Australia was populated by British prisoners and ever since has had a reputation for troublemaking which gave path for surfers to become paria.
And the film's problem is precisely this: it never rises above cliché and instead of exploring the sociological reasons that link surfing and crime, it sometimes makes the notorious Bra Boys live up to the conception that they're the worthy successors of the original criminal settlers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Four More Years of Magic.


Click on the picture to read Disney's upcoming pictures.
I'm thrilled about Lasseter's embrace of hand drawn animation.
Somehow makes you feel all fuzzy inside huh?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Blueberry Nights **


Director: Wong Kar Wai
Cast: Norah Jones, Jude Law
Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn

At first glance Wong Kar Wai's first English feature film seems to be like all his others.
Dreamy atmospheric mood? Check.
Conventional situations approached in unconventional methods? Check.
Sexy, heartfelt performances from his cast? Check.
Flawless musical taste and a fixation with one particular song? Check.
Why then is the film so lacking in something? A purpose perhaps or an emotional truth to support its ethereal themes.
The answers must have gotten lost in translation and what we get is the story of Elizabeth (Jones) a New Yorker with a broken heart who befriends Jeremy (Law) a café owner with whom she finds company, trust and all the blueberry pie she can eat.
It's obvious that they like each other, but in the blink of an eye we find Elizabeth unexplainably living in Memphis and working as a waitress, while sending postcards to Jeremy who has no idea why she left.
Apparently neither does she and much less do we.
She goes across the country meeting people only to realize what she needed was always in front of her. This story has been told a million times, one of the best renditions occurs in the land of Oz, which is why the charm should lie in the anecdotical appeal this should have on Elizabeth's life.
What we get is a series of quirky characters, beautifully acted, but with not much to say or add to the plot.
Portman is particularly good as a feisty gambler with a sad family history who makes the film glow with life despite an awful hairdo.
Weisz is also affecting, but her Southerner comes off looking more femme fatale than grieving victim playing the wife of an alcoholic policeman (Strathairn).
Law has never been so charming and sweet and Chan Marshall from Cat Power gets a small cameo which she infuses with melancholy and regret.
But most of the film rests on Jones' debut performance and she moves through the film in a manner reminsicent of her approach to music: with a lethargic seductiveness that can immediately captivate or irritate you.
Her unusual beauty is bewitching (and curiously the other women in the cast seem to have her same type) but she lets Elizabeth fade too much within the stories of the other people.
She is easily overacted by most of the ensemble, some of her scenes with Portman are cringe worthy, but if you can notice this so easily you have to ask yourself why did Kar Wai choose her as his heroine.
Her ability to disappear might make a point within itself, because maybe the story isn't even supposed to be about her and more about the world which she hadn't seen.
But if he turns Elizabeth into a McGuffin what is the point of having her at all?
The same can be said for the settings. New York City becomes a, beautifully shot, café with painted letters, neon signs and fluorescent pastries.
Memphis becomes a red country bar and Las Vegas is a series of slot machines and poker tables with a view of the desert now and then.
If the places were not important either, why the hell travel then? Even more important why should we want to come along for the ride?
The film might try to explain itself when it argues that "sometimes it's better off not knowing and other times there's no reason to be found".
But it will probably have lost you long before.

Now that Charlton Heston has passed away is it me or does it look like more legends are leaving us this year?
How sad it will be when all the people who lived the Golden Age of cinema have gone.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Star.


"She did it the hard way."
- Inscription on her tombstone.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary actress Bette Davis.
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and from an early age demanded attention, which to some meant that she was destined to become a star.
After starting a career as a supporting player in some pictures very few remember she got her big break with "Of Human Bondage" which kickstarted a career that would account for two Oscars and ten Best Actress nominations, as well as awards from Cannes, the AFI and many other groups.
Her career included highs and lows, a bitchy delicious comeback and an eternal feud with Joan Crawford which has become the thing of legend.
At one point known as "The Fifth Warner Brother" she was one of the most influential actresses that ever lived and helped to form the craft as we know it today.
With this in mind, here are the best Bette Davis moments.

5. William Wyler
The famous director led her to three Academy Award nominations, including one win, and extracted some of her greatest performances. But the story behind it goes that he was the love of her life. Davis was married four different times and while she loved Wyler, he wouldn't bring himself to get a divorce.
Despite of this you can feel something watching the way she always looks her best in his films. In "Jezebel" she's luminous, in "The Letter" she has otherworldly qualities and in "The Little Foxes" she is irresistibly sexy. That she plays villainesses in all three can't be coincidence.

4. President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
In January 1941 she was elected as the first female president of AMPAS.
Her term didn't last long as her radical proposals and outspoken manners created controversy within conservative Academy members who threatened her with boycotting her ideas.
Going back in time you can only begin to wonder what Davis' could've done for the Academy. Perhaps she would've created better Foreign Language Film rules than the ones we have today or started the category in those years for starters.
As an actress she never hid her lust for Oscar. She claimed to have given the statuette its nickname and at one point was trying so hard to get a third Oscar that when Katharine Hepburn got it (in a tie) Davis was quoted as saying "I wanted to be the first to win three Oscars, but Miss Hepburn has done it. Actually it hasn't been done. Miss Hepburn only won half an Oscar. If they'd given me half an Oscar I would have thrown it back in their faces. You see, I'm an Aries. I never lose."
She resigned from the presidency and was preceded by Jean Hersholt.
He implemented the changes she'd suggested.

3. Bette vs. Joan
Not that you can justify feuds, which were highly popular between stars in those days, but hers with Joan Crawford led to some of her most inspired remarks.
"I wouldn't piss on her if she was on fire."
"She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie."
"Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why Joan Crawford always plays ladies."
"You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good . . . Joan Crawford is dead. Good!"

2. Her eyes.
There is no song about Clark Gable's moustache or about Grace Kelly's cheekbones.
Not that any should be made, but you get my point.

1. Her performances.
She once said "I have been uncompromising, peppery, infractable, monomaniacal, tactless, volatile and offtimes disagreeable. I suppose I'm larger than life."
Watching her act there's no way you can question it.

The Top Five.
5. Baby Jane Hudson in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane".
Despite the fact that she had the opportunity to destroy Joan Crawford onscreen she took camp and Grand Guignol and delivered a harrowing cautionary tale about the effects of showbiz in young people.
Nobody else could be so heartbreaking while wearing a child's costume and going insane.
4. Julie Marsden in "Jezebel"/Mildred Rogers in "Of Human Bondage"
Her two most famous villainous roles came in consecutive years and while Julie's ball scandal can be seen as saintly compared to Mildred's disdain for Philip, the truth is that Davis never allowed them to become just bad people.
In fact after Julie is compared to the biblical character (a woman who did evil wherever she went) you realize this is nothing like her. The sparkle that shuts down in her eyes after hearing this squeezes your heart and takes your breath away.
Oh and she makes us see the red in that dress!
3. Charlotte Vale in "Now, Voyager"
She practically invented "Ugly Betty" but did it so in a restrained, absolutely elegant way.
At the beginning of this film she is forced to wear an awful wig, spectacles and hideous eyebrows, but Davis knew better than to let the quirks speak for her character and once she transforms into a glamorous lady she leaves us no doubt that this is what she was from the start.
2. Leslie Crosbie in "The Letter"
This was one of the first Davis films I saw and to date it's perhaps my favorite of her performances. I was completely mesmerized by her screen presence. I trusted her character and when she pulls the rug from under our feet I couldn't do anything else than to understand her motivations. Playing a murderess in a South Pacific plantation you see as the guilt eats her up and just when she thinks she's had her atonement the film takes another twist.
"With all my heart, I still love the man I killed." she utters and you don't stop believing her for a second.
1. Margo Channing in "All About Eve"
Davis said "Margo Channing was not a bitch. She was an actress who was getting older and was not too happy about it. And why should she? Anyone who says that life begins at 40 is full of it. As people get older their bodies begin to decay. They get sick. They forget things. What's good about that?".
There's little one can add to what is regarded as one of the finest performances in film history.
Davis was known to have issues with aging and Margo (who at one point call herself a junkyard) goes through the same during the film, but you can't say she's playing herself.
What she does with Channing goes beyond magic, the film's title talks about someone else, yet she is the one person you can't stop thinking about.
The greatest screenplay ever written wouldn't have been the same without someone like Davis to bring it to life.
When lines like "Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke." can make you giggle out of the blue, you know for sure that you witnessed something out of this world.
And if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't just sit there...

"Don't get up. And please stop acting as if I were the queen mother. "
- Bette Davis as Margo Channing in "All About Eve"

Yet in a way, she was just that.

Southern Belles.


In this corner we have Bette Davis in "Jezebel".
In the other corner we have Vivien Leigh in "Gone With the Wind".
Hollywood history has always places these characters against each other. And it seems kind logical they would.
After all they have some similarities.

"Jezebel" 1938
Julie Marsden: a spoiled New Orleans belle engaged to Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda) who spends most of the film acting with no regard for the consequences or for others; in the process causing death, breakups and more gossip than a plantation can handle.
By film's end she discovers she is not who she thought she was and is forced to take a hard decision that completely changes the course of her life.
Scandal dress: a red gown she wears to the Olympian Ball. She was supposed to wear white...
Time conscious phrase: "This is 1852 dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married. "
Cute ironic moment: "Why do you treat me like a child? "
Epiphany: "I'm askin' for the chance to prove I can be brave and strong and unselfish. Help me, Amy. Help me make myself clean again as you are clean. Let me prove myself worthy of the love I bear him. "
Best Actress Oscar: Yes.

"Gone With the Wind" 1939
Scarlett O'Hara: a spoiled Southern belle who spends her days lusting over Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and goes around flirting with everyone with no regard for the consequences or for others; in the process she causes deaths, breakups and more gossip than a small town bazaar can handle.
By film's end she discovers she is far from being who she thought she was and is forced to take a hard decision that completely changes the course of her life.
Scandal dress: a black mourning gown she wears to the Atlanta bazaar. She wasn't even supposed to be there...
Time conscious phrase: "War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream. Besides... there isn't going to be any war. "
Cute ironic moment: "Ooh, if I just wasn't a lady, WHAT wouldn't I tell that varmint. "
Epiphany: "As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again. "
Best Actress Oscar: Yes.

Truth be told, despite these things in common, each of the performances is a unique work of art, but Hollywood loves its feuds, especially those that never even happened and a legend has been built around the idea that "Jezebel" was made because Bette made a tantrum after she lost the part of Scarlett.
People have called it Davis' "Gone With the Wind" and while that idea inspires catfight fantasies in movie lovers, the real deal is that it was nothing like this.
When "Jezebel" was made Scarlett was still the role everyone was dying for. Bette Davis was always top choice and if anything in "Jezebel" has something to do with "Gone With the Wind" you might say perhaps that "Jezebel" is the most expensive audition tape in Hollywood history.
Bette didn't get the role, but she got her second Oscar and entered the history books.
Not so bad for a "second place" huh?

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Love That Lifted a Man to Paradise...


...and Hurled Him Back to Earth Again

The man would be Philip Carey (Leslie Howard); a sensitive, club-footed artist who is forced to study medicine after his art work is deemed mediocre in Paris.
The film would be "Of Human Bondage".
In London Philip meets Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis) an illiterate tearoom waitress with whom he becomes infatuated and obsessed.
He sees her in his anatomy books and fails his medical midterm because he can't get her out of his head.
He invites her to the theater and courts her, to which she usually replies "I don't mind" with her heavy Cockney accent. Then one day she announces she will get married to Miller (Alan Hale), an older salesman, and asks Philip to get over her.
He obviously doesn't and throughout the story Mildred will exert a strange power over him that will lead him to forgive her every single time, giving her an apartment while she flirts with his best friend and leading to a tragic conclusion.
Based on W. Somerset Maugham's autobiographical novel and directed by John Cromwell, this is the most famous of the film versions, mostly because of what it wasn't.
In what to this day remains a known anecdote for film buffs and award insiders, the movie, which resulted in unanimous praise for Davis, was not nominated for a single Academy Award.
It was Davis' twenty third film, but considering this was in the studio system era when actors were forced into contract films and ended up starring in up to four films a year (Bette herself had four more pictures released in 1934) we can say that this was her breakthrough.
She'd been working since 1931 and was 25 when "Of Human Bondage" was released. The critics loved her work, mostly because it was a total revelation.
Legend has it that Leslie Howard wasn't so keen on working with the newbie and started the film acting carelessly; later, he would constantly try to up his game in order to catch up with his ferocious costar.
Now it seems unbelievable to think back of a time where Howard's name had top billing and Davis was an unknown. Makes you wonder what the actor would've accomplished if it hadn't been for his untimely death. He apparently was very influential, even giving Bogie his first major role, but that's a story for another occasion.
When Oscar announced its nominations in 1935 the film failed to be nominated in every single category, the biggest upset was of course Best Actress.
Davis would be quoted as saying her career was BM and AM (before Maugham and after Maugham respectively) which is a small example of how big the film was in her life.
After Davis' snub, Hollywood went beserk and for the one and only time in Academy history there was a write-in nominee.
Since the Academy didn't allow this in its rules, official records don't show the nomination, but it happened.
And so did this performance, a tour de force in which her sexiness and vulgarity played side to side, luckily it's pre-Code so the sexuality of the characters is on the surface.
Her Cockney accent is perfect, but the work she does with her mannierisms and eyes is the real wonder here. Somehow she makes Mildred someone so awful and revolting that you can't stand her, but at the same time you understand why Philip takes her back every single time.
In her last scene (a shocking transformation that doesn't happen outside as it does within her) you make up your mind about your feelings toward Mildred and whether they are good or bad, very few performances in history dig so deep under your skin.
It's as if we were bound to her in some way or another.
As every human being is to something or other.

Why so smug Javier?


Click here to find out.
Oh...
Nevermind.
Lucky bastard!

Vantage Point *


Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker
Eduardo Noriega, Edgar Ramírez, Said Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer
William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver

Boasting an impressive cast, the film tells the story of the attempted assassination of the American President (Hurt) through eight different points of view.
The story unfolds in Salamanca, Spain, home to a world summit to stop terrorism where several heads of state are meeting. Of course the one causing the most controversy is the American one and in the film's only moment of truth, crowds are seen protesting and accusing him of being the real terrorist.
With this hostile setting, it comes as no wonder when the President is shot by a sniper. Minutes later a bomb explodes killing dozens of people in the square where the conference is being held.
After this, the film goes back in time to the exact same hour in order to show the events through the eyes of each character. Not as "Rashomon" in its development as it wants to be, it feels more like an episode of a television action drama, where after each commercial break we get new clues to solving the mystery and save the world.
While the technical execution is rather good and engaging (although they could've gotten a different shot of the explosion for each flashback...) , the story is filled with more clichés than a Hallmark card. These come especially in the form of some characters and the dialogues they're forced to say.
Weaver injects fire and entertaining bitchiness to a CNN like producer, Zoe Saldana brings a peaceful sense of dignity to her outspoken reporter. Noriega and Ramírez are affecting as opposing sides who have more than they think in common, Quaid's performance as a not so young bodyguard trying to live up to his glorious past gives the actor a great opportunity to shine and Hurt can probably do no wrong, despite the awful lines he's given which are supposed to be inspirational.
But with most characters the film paints everything too by the numbers, sometimes insulting laws of common sense.
As if this wasn't bad enough, most of the film's flaws come in the shape of stereotypes the characters are supposed to be fighting against.
Having Whitaker play a saintly man who can do absolutely no wrong and goes around saving little girls and taping everything with his indestructible camcorder comes off looking as a forced attempt to soften his enigmatic looks, while the beautiful Zurer is given Spanish lines which for American audiences might result romantic, but for people who know the language sound like soap opera parodies.
There is nothing eminently wrong with a Hollywood film that features over the top chase sequences, explosions and body doubles. In a way we've come to expect it of a film like this.
What results monstruous is that the same film tries to deliver a message of world conscience, while reducing the idea of terrorism to a game whose winning is limited to the regulations of American foreign policy.
A film which at some level tries to promote international understanding and then kills off every non American character comes off looking as one with double standards, or maybe scarily honest in its innocence not to nocitce what it's doing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"To be Queen is to be less than human...


...it's to put pride before desire."

Wearing very white makeup and a shaved hairline, Bette Davis played Elizabeth I in 1939's "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex".
Starring opposite (in more ways than one) Errol Flynn as the Earl of Essex, the film chronicles the love affair between both characters and the crown that ultimately separated them.
While director Michael Curtiz does his best to create a compelling drama, sometimes the story comes off looking as a bit shallow and merely at the service of the sumptuous Technicolor cinematography and Orry-Kelly costumes (an inspiration for last year's Elizabeth film perhaps?).
Sometimes the actions lead us to think that this is an essay on how rulers first and foremost are human, leading them to commit mistakes in the name of their very essence.
But is it really safe to say that Queen Elizabeth I would force her troops to withdraw from Ireland just because she was having a lovers' quarrel?
While Errol Flynn is at his charming best (that he chooses to use his Aussie accent proves just how much of a star he knew he was) and Olivia de Havilland, Vincent Price and Donald Crisp are satisfying in supporting roles, the film ultimately belongs to Davis.
Giving one of her best, and curiously less famous, performances she chews the scenery, does her best British accent and commands her subjects without ever losing perspective of the more personal side of what it's like to be a woman who happens to be a queen.
Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar that year for "Dark Victory" which she said was her personal favorite.
In the movie's greatest scene she declares her love to Essex, only to minutes later realize this love could bring down her entire kingdom.
The shift in the mood occurs in the blink of an eye and despite all the wigs, jewels and clothes she has on, Davis is practically naked up there.
She would reprise the role later in her career and some of the themes in the plot would surface along her majestic filmography.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Horton Hears a Who! ***


Director: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino

After the maligned live action versions of two of his most beloved books, Hollywood finally turns to CGI in order to deliver Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who!"; a beautiful fable that has not lost any of its relevance and power.
Horton is an imaginative elephant living in the Jungle of Nool. One day a tiny dust speck flies past him while he's taking a bath. To his disbelief Horton hears a sound coming from it, catches it and carefully places it atop a clover.
Soon he discovers that he was right and in fact the dust speck holds the city of Whoville, led by Ned the Mayor who begins to communicate with Horton and agrees that the city needs to be put in a more stable place.
Horton decides to lead them to safety to the dismay of the entire jungle, including self appointed ruler Sour Kangaroo who does everything she can to stop Horton's insane ideas from spreading through the entire population.
The Mayor of Whoville is going through the same situation, since he must convince the skeptical city council that something wrong might happen to their town and that he's receiving his information from a giant elephant in the sky.
Dr. Seuss' books were usually made of a few dozen pages, which when taking into consideration the debatable rule that one page equals one minute of screen time, would deem his stories worthy of only short films.
In theory this may have been what made the live action adaptations so dreadful and what should make this one a failure as well.
It may have seemed as if the books and cinema would never be able to come together. While one is intimate and straight to the point, the other needed the spectacle to feel relevant.
But behold! The filmmakers behind this adaptation have made the first feature length Dr. Seuss' film that pays tribute to both mediums.
Horton's motto that "a person's a person, no matter how small" doesn't really need much time to be explained, which is why it's surprising that here it never exhausts its stay.
With painstakingly gorgeous animation work, every little element in the jungle seems to have popped to life from the book.
Despite the fact that Dr. Seuss' illustrations were usually monochromatic and very simple, in the CGI world created for this movie, all the objects and characters give us the idea that this full form was merely the next step.
The animals are filled with curious little details and Whoville could very well be dubbed as the city of whimsy. Like its source material, the film has the ability to make you smile without trying too hard.
Of course sometimes we get the obligatory pop culture references, like a networking site called Whospace, Al Gore jokes and the resemblance of the mayor's son Jojo, to Paul Dano's character in "Little Miss Sunshine", but even these small nuances can't hide the joy that lies behind a timeless story that aptly empowers audiences to question their surroundings.
Dr. Seuss had the ability to make his McCarthyan allegory a tale from which everybody could get something.
For some it might be an initial kick into wondering what is beyond this world, while for others it remains essentially a reminder to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Whatever conclusion you get to, the film speaks better for itself and with itself, for how often can you go to a theater and have an animated elephant evoke "A Man for All Seasons"?

Bette Davis Week.


To celebrate the centennial of one of the greatest film stars that ever lived, it's "Bette Davis Week" at Movies Kick Ass.
Visit the site where I will be reviewing a brand new (to me at least) Davis' movie every day until Saturday when I'll be counting down on my favorite Bette moments.
And right here at the blog there'll be quotes, pictures and all sorts of things from her films.
Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy week.

Jules Dassin 1911-2008


Seems to be as if the great studio upstairs is recruiting the last remaining film noir legends.
Now it was Jules Dassin's time. Truth be told I have only seen two of his films, but somehow he's been present in my cinematical memories fro quite some time.
I remember when I was younger being transfixed by Anthony Perkins' eyes in "Phaedra", but I never finished watching it, then I remember catching the last minutes of "Topkapi" and being uplifted by the color and sounds.
But my first full Dassin came in the shape of "He Who Must Die" a cyclical tale set during Easter when a small town is staging a crucifixion only to be forced to literally ask themselves what would Jesus do when they're invaded by foreigners.
And in the astonishing "Rififi" Dassin showed the world how a heist film should be made. Setting precedents for the nouvelle vague and the blooming film noir.
The robbery sequence, which pays homage to silent cinema and makes you feel every sweat drop coming down your forehead is mesmerizing.
A cultural ambassador for Greece (along with his late wife Melina Mercouri) and a survivor of the HUAAC witch hunt, Dassin was always the kind of underrated film maker that becomes a silent influence.
May he rest in peace.