Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Fashion: Best Dressed

This column is dedicated to my friend Luke, who knows how much I hated the Oscars this year but still wanted to hear my opinion on fashion. Hope you enjoy sir.

10. Jennifer Lawrence in Calvin Klein
At first glance I was so disappointed with Lawrence's look. She had been so flawless and risky all season long, wearing bold colors in even bolder designs (girl's got the legs) so when she showed up in this simple red column with practically no accessories and free flowing hair I was like "what?".
As the night went by however, she looked just radiant! The silhouette is perfection and unlike other actresses, she never looked constricted or restrained by what she was wearing. Can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

9. Sandra Bullock in Vera Wang
This is how it's done Anne Hathaway's Valentino (I felt terrible typing that by the way...Annie knows I worship her)

8. Natalie Portman in Rodarte
The Best Actress winner was the image of pure joy and her simple fashion choice proved to be flawless. I'm not sure what everyone was expecting of her given that she's pregnant and all which must make dress choices much more difficult.
However the color was stunning (anyone else had flashbacks of Keira Knightley in 2006?), the hair was lovely and she accessorized like a pro.

7. Jennifer Hudson in Versace
Va-va-voom Miss Hudson! The Oscar winner looks absolutely hawt in this orange Versace.
See how her dress is a bit of Sandra Bullock's and Gwyneth's all rolled into one bomb of sexiness.
The accessories are perfect, the hair is incredible and you just gotta love the boobs. Beyoncé's "style" must be rolling in its grave of tackiness.

6. Anne Hathaway in Givenchy Couture.
Anne changed dresses a LOT and while some weren't fully successful (that weird Tom Ford from the end) this vanilla construction was a delight.
The bodice recalls the Versace January Jones wore to the Emmys once but while Jones is all about the cutting edge, Annie fits more of a princess mold.
This dress was shown on the runway as a wedding dress and Hathaway makes it look positively regal.

5. Gwyneth Paltrow in Calvin Klein
The Oscar winner/country singer was stunning in this metallic CK column. She let her hair down and in all honesty looked like what Oscar would look like if he was a gorgeous woman.
The Louis Vuitton brooch was a bit off putting though, it was one of those situations when you like and then hate something. Good that you almost can't see it!

4. Anne Hathaway in Atelier Versace.
See what I meant about the Givenchy looking like Versace?
This is the kind of dress the house of Donatella is magnificent at: simple, sexy and delicately elaborate gowns that look as comfortable as shorts with the grace of couture mortals can't afford.

3. Anne Hathaway in Oscar de la Renta.
Disco was back for a few seconds as Anne rocked the stage in this beaded Oscar de la Renta which could do flashy nice things and made her look more beautiful than she did all night long (although it must be said she was all sorts of stunning in her masculine tux as well...)

2. Mila Kunis in Ellie Saab
As you know, I've had a love/hate relationship with Kunis' red carpet choices. Sometimes she looks stunning but more often than not she looks like she's trying too hard.
This lavender Ellie Saab was wonderful. Notice the gorgeous lace details on her cleavage and the way in which the dress flowed making her look radiant and quite sexy.
She was classic Hollywood with a slight edge and all throughout the night I kept telling myself "this is the classy version of this".

1. Cate Blanchett in Givenchy Couture
My prediction was right. This woman is a goddess among stylish women. The truth is her dress couldn't be more simple if it tried but it's such a well designed gown that like Cate's work, you find yourself uncovering layers and layers of what makes it so wonderful.
For starters the color! This delicate mix of lavender, violet and white makes for a warm look that's also aggressively imposing.
Next, that flowered frame is a thing of real beauty. It's sexy withou being vulgar (like ScarJo's back window) and reminds us that we are indeed watching a lady.
The yellow details on the shoulders accentuate her tasteful earrings and the simple bracelet completes the look. Also, Cate's hair has grown into something absolutely stunning. If this was a better world it would be her and not Jennifer Aniston who'd inspire fashion choices the world over.
Some have complained that the dress is a bit too weird and pastoral, when it's actually evoking and utterly magical.

So Luke, agree or disagree? Who would you add or remove? And the rest of you guys, get out your inner fashionista and let's discuss this! After all we know the clothes are usually better than the Oscars themselves right?

Oscar Fashion: Meh

The first sight we got of Anne Hathaway was in this confusing red Valentino (she walked the red carpet with Mr. Garabani himself whose skin color matched the gown).
This reminds me of one of Anne's first Oscars, where she wore a drapy, complicated Marchesa, it didn't work that time, it most definitely didn't do much on this occasion.

I love Pe and you all know it.
I wasn't even expecting her to be at the Oscars because well, she just gave birth (love the boobs by the way...) so when I first saw her my heart stopped and I felt a rush of joy.
However when I saw what she was wearing I was less than thrilled. This L'Wrenn Scott is beautiful but it reminds me too much of Miss Universe or a European awards show where people do wear things like this.
However I felt it looked odd for the most stylish red carpet in the was just a bit too much, yet so little effort at the same time?

Mandy Moore is all sorts of cute in this Monique Lhuillier but Marion Cotillard did it better.

So am I right on sticking these ladies in fashion limbo?
Do you love or hate any of the looks?

Oscar Fashion: Worst

Nicole Kidman should've worn the same dress she wore to the Grammys instead of this messy, Melissa Leo-like, disaster.
This ivory Dior design would've worked without those strange hip hugging flaps which make Nicole seem as if she's been eating too much doughnuts.
In fact, one of my friends said "leave her alone, she just gave birth". 'Nuff said.

Scarlett Johansson is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood and she seems to hate this so much that she wore her grandma's curtains to the Oscars and didn't bother to comb her hair.
This peekaboo Dolce & Gabbana fails where Mila Kunis' did, instead of being sensuous and inviting, it's actually scary and tacky.
That weird back cleavage is perhaps the worst part of all as it draws attention to ScarJo's awesome butt for all the wrong reasons.

This L'Wrenn Scott dress is actually wonderful but the closed neck and the awkward emerald make Amy Adams look like a ghost of Oscars past (think 1980s).
Anyway it's not like she wore the thing Melissa Leo did (she's not included here because it would've been too easy).

What's your take on these ladies?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wishful Oscar Thinking.

Since The King's Sweep is practically inevitable, I won't bother with predictions this year and just stick to who I would be ecstatic to see win...

Best Picture
I prefer Black Swan as a film but The Social Network just screams Best Picture of the year and would make things like Crash and Driving Miss Daisy seem like tiny missteps when compared to such a masterpiece.

Best Director
David Fincher. Because this might be his masterpiece and those never are recognized by AMPAS. He'll probably lose to Tom Hooper and then win for something like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2.

Best Actor
Jesse Eisenberg for making assholeness and loneliness two heartbreaking sides of the same coin.

Best Actress
Natalie Portman simply because of that final breakdown scene in her dressing room. She did things with her face I thought only Nicole Kidman and Greta Garbo could do.

Best Supporting Actor
John Hawkes, simply because no one else in that category could do what he did with such dexterity and cruel simplicity.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams because she supports. She doesn't try to steal the spotlight and yet she does in the end. That tacky MTV girl is the one character that leaves the theater with you after The Fighter think Charlene would've hated such a movie just makes her more perfect.

Animated Feature Film
Toy Story 3 just happens to be the best movie of the year in almost every category...

Art Direction
As much as I love porn The King's Speech's got nothing on the marvelous sets Inception has. Yes, there I said it...

Roger Deakins should win for something where he shows why he's a master, True Grit could've been done in his sleep. My vote goes to Black Swan's beautifully strange camera work. those closeups! The way the camera menaces Nina...

Costume Design
I Am Love was the year's fashion orgasm.

The Social Network's editing work is so subtle that it took me three viewings to realize the film is indeed a courtroom flick with flashbacks. Its layers are so rich and embedded with such mastery that I still can not get enough of it.

Foreign Language Film
Dogtooth. Although I've only seen two and hate being so partial...

No preference here.

Original Score
I still am humming the opening theme for The Social Network...besides electronica needs to be embraced by AMPAS!

Original Song
All of them make me yawn but Coming Home is kinda sweet...

Sound Editing
Toy Story 3 because EVERYTHING is sound effects! People seem to forget this about animated features.

Sound Mixing
That club scene in The Social Network should seal the deal without thinking it twice.

Visual Effects

Adapted Screenplay
The Social Network has perhaps the best screenplay of the decade and I don't say things like that just to say them.

Original Screenplay
My favorite is The Fighter but I don't really love any of the nominees.

How about you? What are you hoping will take the naked golden guy home?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Somewhere ***½

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
Chris Pontius, Michelle Monaghan, Simona Ventura

The Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood has become an institution that houses legend that range from the tragic (John Belushi's death), the iconic (James Dean auditioned for Rebel Without a Cause there...) and the purely Hollywood-esque (in the best Holly Golightly tradition, Keanu Reeves lived there for years until he was ready to buy a house).
It makes sense then, that Sofia Coppola decided to use this setting for her delicate portrayal of an actor (Dorff) trying to make sense of what his life has become.
The Chateau Marmont arguably represents more than just Hollywood, it also embodies Coppola's rich history within this industry. Writers are always told to write about what they know and Coppola has always been a master of extracting seemingly trivial details from her own experience and molding them into something that recalls universality.
On the surface then, the film captures a slice of the life of movie star Johnny Marco during a few days during which we see him attend press junkets, engage in casual sex, travel to Italy for an awards show and spend time with his daughter Cleo (Fanning).
It's this surface that always makes Coppola's films seem like the work of a spoiled teenager with dreams of filmmaking, but those willing to be seduced by her presentation of a world that's completely external to them, are usually rewarded with melancholy essays that deal with the inherent humanity that can be found in extreme separation.
Where Lost in Translation was a film about finding each other, Somewhere explores what happens when people begin to isolate themselves from the world.
As such, the film has undertones of Greek tragedies in which the heroes faced the wrath of the gods in order to fulfill a mission. The difference is that we don't see Johnny Marco battling Medusa (although the prominent gold statues during an Italian sequence could say otherwise) we see him battling the unnamed anger of someone who sends him insulting messages on his Blackberry.
We are therefore forced to look beyond the strokes of "poor little rich boy" the film suggests in order to empathize, or at least sympathize with someone that has it all but really has nothing.
The thing about Sofia Coppola's films is that they suffer from the very human tendency to oversimplify and the moment you try to encompass their meaning in words, this seems to evaporate in front of our eyes.
Somewhere consists of a series of precious little moments that lack any meaning when seen with judgmental eyes but whose meaning at the same time is so personal and unique that the whole movie could be taken as a recollection of memories pieced together randomly.
Coppola indeed seems to try hard to please her audience and find an ultimate meaning for everything she put together; therefore, the movie's finale might seem unsatisfying, when it could've been ethereal.
We could say then that the film fully depends on its audience's reaction to be something other than shadows projected on a screen. Yet, then again, isn't this what all movies are about?
Perhaps what makes Somewhere so difficult to connect to for some, is that the characters fails to ask their audience to love them. Failure in this terms is solely judged from a popular point of view, given that the characters themselves are so well constructed and thoroughly expressed that they never seem to be aware that they are being watched.
The issue of intrusion is also deal with in the movie. Johnny fears being followed by paparazzi and during a seemingly trivial moment he shows mild discomfort when he's sitting on a restaurant having a beer and a stranger goes "hey, Johnny!". We have to ask ourselves where can we draw the line when it comes to celebrities who arguably asked to be thrown into the public eye but are keenly trying to preserve whatever amounts to privacy.
Coppola handles this beautifully and despite the fact that we aren't technically invited to see Johnny's life, Dorff acts like there's no one there and gives in to moments of utter carelessness as when he engages in sex with a hotel guest.
Dorff, who has rarely shown this much emotion, makes a complex figure out of Johnny. What resonates the most about his character is his utter lack of self awareness. He plays him like someone who just "is". His indifference as he falls asleep watching two strippers perform in his room is hilarious and gains pure joy when sequences later the twin strippers return with a new routine for him involving rackets. The look in his face is one of pure childlike wonder and we understand then and there that this man has become someone who determines his life's worth by the moment he's living.
Dorff along with Coppola, make Johnny Marco a symbolic figure who's also quite real. Leave it to the director (along with the extraordinary DoP Harris Savides) to let us see Johnny's problems externally. Notice how he's rarely seen in open spaces, except for two crucial moments, otherwise he's inside a hotel room, inside his car driving around or walking through the hotel hallways which seem to get tighter with each scene.
This oppression is perhaps best represented with a not so subtle cast on his arm, which Johnny attributes to making his own stunts. In the life of an actor that means he got it just living his life.
Johnny rarely seems to be moving and Coppola often catches him in bed, drifting on a pool or being taken to places.
The director suggests that, more of a salvation, Cleo is who he once was. We see her as a free spirited child who despite having a famous father has not forgotten who she is. Her introduction in the film is done in a way that pretty much symbolizes their entire relationship.
In the previous scene one of the strippers comes up to Johnny's face and blows bubblegum (bubble is about to burst for him). Cut to the next scene and we see Cleo carefully signing her father's cast while he sleeps.
The camera moves towards Johnny and we get a glimpse of a tattoo in his other arm that reads "Cleo". She was there all the time.
This also represents what might be the central theme in Somewhere: the fear of being forgotten. Each of the characters seems to be drifting but trying hard to leave something behind. Whether it be Johnny's movies (which judging from the posters seem forgettable), Cleo's lovely ice skating routine or the whole idea of the Chateau Marmont (perhaps stories will be told about Johnny being there...) the characters seem to be scared about the possibility of not being remembered.
There's even a scene where they watch an episode of Friends dubbed in Italian but seem to rely on its nostalgia and feeling of home so much that they don't mind not understanding what's going on.
Yet this, like everything else in this fragile work, is out of the protagonists' hands. There is only so much they can control and eventually they too must face the fact that they might just be guests in this world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Outside the Law *½

Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Cast: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila
Bernard Blancan, Chafia Boudraa, Assaad Bouab

Outside the Law is a film that's actually rather restricted by cinematic conventions. As if trying to keep itself bounded by the notions of what makes a film politically correct, it deals with one of the darkest episodes of the twentieth century by filtering it through a sensibility that would please Hollywood's rulebook on how to bend history for dramatic purposes.
The story spans for almost two decades and takes us to French occupied Algeria where it concentrates on three brothers who, fed up with French colonialists, decide to take the law upon their hands.
We see how they are kicked out of their land as children and then join the FLN as grown men. The entire film then consists of vignettes that lead us to the only politically correct solution you can have in a movie about terrorists who are doing the "right thing" (yes, that finale...).
The problem with Outside the Law is that it does this without any real conviction, the whole movie seems to move aimlessly towards a resolution it might not agree with but still feels like the only one they could deliver without getting in trouble.
The film shows unmistakable technical mastery but everything is done with such stale, almost impersonal efficiency that you wonder if there is any actual urgency behind the making of this movie.
Each of the three brothers the story concentrates on, is given a determinate quality that identifies him without making him human.
The protagonist among them is perhaps Said (Debbouze) who has the most prominent scenes and is the most easily recognizable actor. He gets the duty of fulfilling the rebel hero/prodigal son in a movie that already spends most of its running time expressing how everyone already is providing stereotypical roles.
Outside the Law only breaks any convention when it bends history, turns it into dramatic putty and then proceeds to shape it at its will, however said will is what the film lacks.
Some moments seem to be saying that the film is criticizing the way France handled Algeria but then the movie turns its heroes into monsters.
This could be call impartiality and objectivity. Neither should be the qualities of a fiction movie but if they were, they should be clearly stated that way. What Bouchareb does here however is take a bit of everything that serves him to make a movie that condemns and later takes it back, analyzes and then stereotypes, over dramatizes and then tries to create docudrama...
For a movie that in theory had so much to say, it's sad that it never takes cue from the revolutionary spirit its heroes are supposed to have.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Illusionist ***½

Director: Sylvain Chomet

Jacques Tati had a cunning eye for finding humanity through the use of complicated setpieces and quietly heartbreaking humor. Whether he was at the beach, the city or on the highway, he had a way to make us laugh about the senselessness we allow to rule our lives.
When he died in 1982 he had been at work on a story about a magician who befriends a young woman and finds hope in a world where he's no longer needed.
Years later, the extraordinary Sylvain Chomet adapted this screenplay to bid adieu to Tati with The Illusionist.
Chomet, best known for his quirky work in The Triplets of Belleville, took Tati and literally turned him into the animated figure he played in his movies.
The main character here is Tatischeff, a French magician trying to find audiences to entertain as rock bands and pop artists take over the world.
In the opening scene we see him struggle with his hat-rabbit and the lack of an audience, who leave the theater once the musical group stops playing (the group is a wonderful hybrid of Elvis Presley and The Beatles). We understand that Tatischeff has become a second rate act.
Later when he loses his rabbit, a theater employer brings over a rat. Tatischeff explains to him that this particular rodent doesn't belong to him but Chomet has told us all we need to know about this man.
Few working directors have the lyrical economy of Chomet. With a mere strokes, and usually without dialog, he is able to encompass such a large array of emotions that it's no wonder he took onto this project.
Like Tati, and to a certain degree like Chaplin (who Tati arguably paid homage to), Chomet creates entire worlds in tiny episodes. The stylized work of the animators in The Illusionist have precious qualities that could border on caricature (which they technically are) but usually as seen as mature embodiments of more transcendental elements.
It's impossible not to see the smoky decadence of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich in a chanteuse we only get a glimpse of and once we learn about the autobiographical nature of the film we are just left in awe of Tati's great intellect and heart.
We see how Tatischeff has to travel all over looking for audiences that will let themselves be enchanted by his tricks.
During one of these travels to a remote Scottish pub, he meets a young girl named Alice who becomes enthralled by what she considers to be real magic.
Alice becomes the magician's loyal follower and travels with him to Edinburgh where during the day, he presents her with lavish presents-by way of his magic-and at night tries to earn a living by doing "regular" jobs.
The sequences where he works as an advertising painter and a car parking guard are sensational and provide us with little gags that particularly recall Playtime.
Tatischeff is a combination of Tati himself and Mr. Hulot and through him the film talks to us in a subtle meta language that carefully leads us to ask ourselves where does the man end and the artist begins.
This is perhaps the central theme of the movie given that the screenplay was supposed to be an apology to one of Tati's estranged daughters.
Seeing the way in which Tatischeff tries hard to please Alice but finds himself unable to keep up the charade for too long speaks not only of Tati's real life or even of a father and daughter, it has something deeper to say about the magic of movies themselves.
Too often movies try hard to mimic reality and become projections of our world that seem all too real and identifiable.
The Illusionist however reminds us that movies are the ultimate illusion; as hard as they try they will always be shadows of a universe we only think we know. The movie then offers sequences where we see the process of movie making in miniature.
During one scene Alice stares out a window while outside an old lady has an accident with feathers which fly through the air creating the impression of snow. Alice rushes to light a fire to keep warm and only later realizes her mistake.
The truth is however that she fails to see that for a minute the phenomenon was real because she saw it. This leads us to yet another important part of film making which is taking into consideration the things the audience never sees. The behind the cameras process if you like, which we also see here in a hilarious moment when Alice fails to get water when she opens the faucet (take notice of how Chomet frames these moments using mirrors, windows or doors that recall movie screens).
This willing ignorance on our part makes us not gullible but naively enthralled by things that seem to have escaped from our wildest dreams.
However what happens when these illusions disappoint us? We see this in Tatischeff himself who comes to realize that, hard as he tries, there's only so much magic the world is willing to take.
The Illusionist is a heartbreaking work of art that deals with melancholy and the artistic process, yet pulls off the ultimate trick: through its nostalgic palette and carefully constructed characters it reminds us that magic is real for as long as we wish to believe in it.


Click on the picture and head over to The Costa Rica News to read my review for The Green Hornet.

As usual, come back and comment!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Style Sunday.

Cate the great is always such a joy for the senses. Dressed in a simple Balenciaga dress she makes it all about her gorgeous face with a Van Cleef and Arpels necklace that draw us to her regal beauty.
The hair and makeup are simple and give Blanchett a quirky sexiness she doesn't display too often.

I can not wait to see her at the Oscars! Who do you think she'll wear?

PS: speaking of style, I recently wrote a piece on this year's Oscar nominees for Best Costume Design. Click here to read it.

Burlesque **

Director: Steven Antin
Cast: Cher, Christina Aguilera
Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Dianna Agron
Alan Cumming, Peter Gallagher, Stanley Tucci

If The Pussycat Dolls could sing and had been discovered by Cher, their story would look something like Burlesque.
The story in the film has been told a million times (and in much better ways) but here's the deal:
Ali (Aguilera) is a small town girl trying to make it in Los Angeles, who just happens to sing like Christina Aguilera.
Tess (Cher) is a club owner trying her best to save her club from a real estate mogul (Dane) who wants to buy it from her, of course the club's not doing well and the only thing that could save them would be a new star...
Things do go as you expect them to and the movie pretends it's not about how well they tell the story but about how it looks.
The musical numbers are done in a Bob Fosse-meets a Kylie Minogue concert way and as such are quite effective. There's lots of lights, lots of feathers, more hot girls than Tess could ever afford to keep on payroll and of course Aguilera squeezes those pipes like there's no tomorrow.
Yet the thing is that for all of its flash and glitter, the movie can't help but feel absolutely lacking. For instance the second Aguilera comes onscreen (which is immediately after the studio logos appear) we know the gal can sing (in fact she does a number by herself as soon as the opening credits appear).
So when the moment comes for Tess and the club people to realize she has a talent, the audience is way knowledgeable of this fact (not to mention that Aguilera isn't much of an actress and Ali really comes often looking as a poorly dressed version of the singer).
In between numbers we get glimpses of the characters' lives and Aguilera gets a love triangle (with the efficiently cute Gigandet and Dane), Tess gets rejected by banks and other characters fill stock roles with grace (would've been fantastic to see more of Kristen Bell's bitchy Nikki).
The movie is instantly forgettable but boy do we come out craving more Cher. Her appearances are quite limited and she does the best numbers in the movie but we just can't get enough of her attitude, her flawless skin and her stingy one-liners (her chemistry with Tucci who technically reprises his character from The Devil Wears Prada) is just fantastic.
But Burlesque will not please those who expect their films to make any sense and demand more than lights and heavy makeup to have a good time at the movies.
For those, a complimentary cocktail or two are a must before entering this club.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blue Valentine ***

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Mike Vogel, Faith Wadlyka, John Doman, Ben Shenkman

Blue Valentine is essentially a twee remake of Revolutionary Road, they both explore the courtships and eventual destructions of two marriages.
In this case it's Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) who rushed into marriage after an intense love affair and eventually come to terms with the fact that they've become strangers to each other.
The film is edited so that we see the past and present at the same time. Through some ingenious cuts we see the intensity of their initial romance and the decay with which their marriage begins to crumble years later.
This technique, while aesthetically pleasing, provides the film with its major flaw, given that the audience immediately realizes that this was never going to lead to anywhere good.
Their romance is based on lies, youthful inexperience and a life altering twist that takes away some of the 70s-style realism director Cianfrance seems to be aiming for.
It doesn't take an expert to realize that their relationship was doomed from the moment they met, yet the film naively tries to surprise us and them, into discovering how bad things can go from one moment to another.
The editing therefore becomes like a way of torture and Cianfrance reveals a deep pessimism about the idea of love that we have learned from the movies.
His deconstruction of film romance is well intentioned but fails on the grounds that he eventually makes the plot feel absolutely redundant.
The film then is rescued by its two leading actors who give masterful performances. Williams infuses Cindy with a dislikability that few actresses would play with.
As a young adult we see her live joyfully and give in to the irresponsible delights of discovering love for the very first time. It's a pleasure to see Williams turn Cindy into someone who should know better but chooses to go for the fairy tale.
When we see the way she's turned out to be a few years later, Williams has aged in front of our eyes. Her joyful Cindy has become a bitter, resentful woman who is in so much pain that we can almost see it pour out of her skin.
Gosling first plays Dean like the Prince Charming every indie girl dreams of: he plays the ukulele, wears fantastic clothes and has an easy job that helps him pay the bills without compromising his artistic potential.
Later we see he has become a pathetic little creature who loves his wife so much that he's forgotten to love himself. Watching Gosling and Williams play off each other is a delight and their most dramatic scenes ache with a tender acidity that makes us ignore Cianfrance's intention to take this simple tale out of proportions.
Blue Valentine suffers because like its characters it feels like a jaded movie that should've known better. Williams and Gosling provide it with the bleeding heart it needs and resents.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at movie posters for upcoming features.

The idea of Scream 4 truly makes me squeal like a schoolgirl.
And I love the way in which this poster follows the originals but gives them an edge, quite literally as the mask takes the shape of a knife.
It's this combination of campy horror, comedy and critique that make Wes Craven's Scream movies such a delight to watch.

This poster reminds me of something but I can't really put my finger on it the famous V-Day kiss picture? Perhaps a scene from A Man and a Woman?
Whatever the answer turns out to be, the undeniable truth is that this one sheet is a truly breathtaking piece. Not only are the stars' faces almost concealed (you have Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess and purposefully choose not to show them? That's cojones right there) but the image composition thrives with sexual, romantic and sigh-inducing energy.
Why the hell aren't rom-com posters more adventurous this way?

So, is it romance or thriller for you this week?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Rite *

Director: Mikael Håfström
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue
Marta Gastini, Ciarán Hinds, Alice Braga, Toby Jones
Chris Marquette, Rutger Hauer

In a world that, now more than ever, steers away from the path of religion, it's curious to see how Hollywood has remained utterly fascinated with the rite of exorcism. The Catholic "procedure" of extracting Satan out of a possessed victim has spawned film classics (and their preposterous sequels) and urban legends among other things.
Considering that only 23.9% of the American population is Catholic, we could say that exorcism fascinates the remaining percentage so much because it's not really threatening to their faith.
Then, if only Catholics can be possessed by the devil, why do people still want to see movies about them? Why not do more serial killer or evil alien movies?
True, Catholicism is still one of the most popular religions on the planet (with over a billion believers spread over more than 150 countries) but perhaps what still drives people to movies about exorcism is how they've become sensationalist metaphors for, well, fighting their own demons.
The Rite is the latest installment in the "exorcism as coming-of-age" school and continues the tradition of imposing Oedipal theories in a religion that's already known for its worshiping of the father figure.
In this case, undertaker Michael Kovak (O'Donoghue) decides to escape from his father (Hauer) by enrolling in a seminary school and leaving before being ordained. When the time comes he's persuaded by his mentor (Jones) to give priesthood a try by going to Rome and becoming an exorcist. Said persuasion is mostly blackmail but we understand how anyone would want to stay away from a house filled with dead bodies and Rutger Hauer...
Michael leaves to Rome where he continues his skeptical attitude about faith until he meets Father Lucas (Hopkins), an Irish hermit, part Hannibal Lecter part Saint Francis of Assisi, who specializes in extracting demons from people, whether by tricks or "actual" exorcism.
Most of the movie centers on the case of Rosaria (Gastini) a pregnant Italian teenager who vomits bloody nails and speaks in foreign languages. While Michael suggests a shrink, Lucas sprinkles the child with holy water and reads Bible passages.
Their opposing points of view are then tested when the movie takes a twist so obvious you can't help but roll your eyes. Suddenly Michael finds the perfect opportunity to use his recent experiences, to, wait for this...exorcise his own demons.
Suddenly the movie is no longer about devils, nails and creepy cats but about Michael finally getting rid of his issues with his father basically by replacing him with another father figure.
The movie could've explored the psychological implications this strategy has had to help religious fanatics shy away from their problems by exchanging figures from their own lives for omnipotent symbols they don't need to deal with on a human level.
And The Rite doesn't even work as a scary movie either; other than the "sudden scare", the film lacks conviction in the terrifying traits of its screenplay. What should've been atmospheric is blasphemously cheap, what should've been creepy results crappy.
Hopkins adds unnecessary gravitas to roles that from now on should be called "Oscar winners hamming up their acting chops to regain notoriety" and O'Donoghue, while pretty, lacks presence as the protagonist.
The Rite as a whole is a movie that's more confused about its own beliefs than its own characters. Does it want to be scary? Prescient? Campy? An acting showcase? A biopic? A criticism to Catholicism? A praise of Catholic faith?
Whatever the answer is, the film truly lacks spirit.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daft Punked.

Click here to read my review for Tron: Legacy.
Then come back and share your neon lit thoughts!

I've Got Pedro Under My Skin.

The teaser poster for Pedro Almodóvar's La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Inhabit) was released today and as much as I tried to contain myself and wait until the weekend to talk about it, I simply couldn't resist myself...
This thing is just magnificent!
Love the retro feel of it all and the Boschian combination of the Eden-like surroundings and the human figure straight out of a medical book.
Oh Pedro, how you make me love you...

This Song Can Go F*ck Itself...

...but just how lovable is Gwyn?
Someone give her a musical NOW!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

(BAFTA) Style Sunday.

Poor Julianne Moore has been so snubbed all awards season long that it made sense she showed red carpets what they were missing out on for ignoring her. After her faux pas at the Golden Globes she makes it up with this wonderful Tom Ford design. The deco inspired front and the giant bow in the back make her look like the heir to Ava Gardner.

Thandie Newton is a BAFTA staple and with reason: she's such a beautiful, beautiful woman (also she won a BAFTA for Crash) she's a vision in this stunning Monique Lhuillier. The color and structure more than compliment Thandie's natural beauty.

What the hell is it with big fantasy starlets and not smiling? (I'm looking at you Kristin Stewart) Emma Watson seems to follow the emo example and in the process takes away some points from her gorgeously detailed Valentino dress.

Hailee Steinfeld, bless her heart.
When she was nominated for an award in the old continent she must've assumed she needed to dress like Queen Elizabeth and went with this matronly Miu Miu ensemble that not only ages her terribly but also makes her Mattie Ross from True Grit seem absolutely glamorous.

Well hello Miss Bening! Annette has rarely looked as sexy and free spirited as she does in this simple Marchesa dress. Good riddance to her usual black and may she wow us at the Oscars!

The amazing Noomi Rapace, rocked the droll red carpet in this beaded Givenchy Couture gown. Taking such risks for an awards show rarely pay off this well and in this curve hugging golden creation pulls it off.
Noomi's the antithesis of her iconic Lisbeth Salander and boy do I like it!

Did you guys see the BAFTAs? Who was your fave dressed? Fave win?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Short Takes: "Love and Other Drugs" and "Hereafter".

More than the "Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhall Naked Variety Show", this movie is a sadly overdone ode to complicated love. Sure, Anne and Jake are naked a lot and as good a marketing angle as that might've been, the truth is that they are remarkable not because of their bubble butts and perfect stomachs but because of the nakedness of their performances (corny to say it but true...).
Gyllenhaal plays womanizing Pfizer medical representative Jamie. Hathaway plays Maggie, the cynical, early onset Parkinson's disease, patient he falls for.
They try to make it all about sex but movie conventions have showed us that before soon they'll be entangled in some messy emotional issues.
When this happens the movie gives its lead actors a chance to shine, the rest however is a confused mess that makes it seem as if the editor and the director were on some weird emotion altering pill.
The film alternates between moods in such an uneven way that it's impossible for the filmmakers to say they were doing a cute postmodernist take on the drug experience through editing. The whole thing is jut muddled filmmaking.
It's nice then to see Gyllenhaal stretching his limited chops to explore a more aggressive character, someone unafraid to come off as a total jerk and win our hearts by the end (George Clooney would've played him in the 90's...).
And it obviously comes as no surprise that Anne Hathaway is all sorts of magnificent. The little things she gives Maggie are stunningly detailed without being show-offs. She could've played this woman with pity and gone over the top to deliver her message, however she does quite the opposite and slowly lets Maggie become who she is.
Watching Hathaway go from sexiness to raw pain is the one truly addictive thing about this movie.

Clint Eastwood has got to be one of the most overrated working directors, yet at the same time some of his films are so subtle and misunderstood that he seems to be slightly underrated.
Such is the case with Hereafter, a haunting romantic drama that fails to ignite the tragic passion The Bridges of Madison County did but is still able to steer off the preachy stubbornness of Changeling.
The script (written by Peter Morgan) seems to be getting its line from the Iñárritu school of "connecting random dots to achieve universal catharsis" and as such, we see how the lives of former psychic George (Damon), French tsunami survivor Marie (de France) and British boy Marcus (Frankie McLaren) are united by death and then brought together by the magic of the movies.
Eastwood however directs taking his cue from the school of Clint and turns the film into a meditative examination of life in times of chaos. Hereafter takes its time to make its point but it's never a slow movie. In fact Clint plays with the story so well that for a moment we doubt it's leading to the place where it eventually takes us to.
This makes it a curious experiment and the film often feels as moody as the characters are tragic. Damon gives a superbly restrained performance but the film perhaps belongs to the stunning de France. Her bittersweet portrayal of Marie is infused with a cruel tenderness that gives her such rich layers. Her story is often at risk of becoming the most convoluted and corny, yet she handles it with such class that you really don't care when the movie tries to turn her into a paperback romance heroine.
The ending of Hereafter might turn off some who feel Clint's gone senile, surrendered to love and just teased us for 130 minutes with the promise of turning on his darkness and delivering one of his intense takes on justice.
However those willing to look past the sensationalism the movie deals with, will be rewarded with a heartbreaking tale that tells us to stop worrying about what's to come when all we really have is today.

Love and Other Drugs **
Hereafter ***

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

I really don't care how many more times they rip off the Michael Clayton poster if the results keep coming up this good!
I really wasn't too excited about this movie but this poster changed my mind. Bring me some Matt and Em ASAP!

Just how amazing is this poster for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives?
How on Earth do such beauties get greenlit in this world of floating heads and shitty Photoshop is beyond me but I am all the more happy for it.
This poster was done by Chris Ware (who gave us that lovely illustrated one sheet for The Savages a few years ago), someone should make him head of marketing at a studio...

What do you think of these?

Hayden Gets It Right!

Actually this is the way she makes me feel in general!
However I'm utterly psyched about Scream 4. FYI the Scream trilogy is actually my favorite movie three-parter of all time.
People usually expect me to go all snob (the Apu Trilogy), all classic (The Godfather) or all geek (The Lord of the Rings) when it comes to trilogies but no siree, I'm a good old fashioned horror freak in this case. In fact people react to this in the way they do when I tell them how much I love Gwyneth Paltrow: you can see they have lost some respect for me but at the same time are shocked I didn't bother to lie.
Best part is: I never feel guilty (in the pleasurable way) about it!

So, what's the movie you unabashedly love despite getting raised eyebrows from others?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Social Network ****

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield
Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara, Max Minghella
Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, Rashida Jones

It should be ironic to think that a movie that deals with the creation of Facebook never seems to be aiming for our "like"s. Yet that's just what David Fincher does in his transcendental The Social Network; a harsh film that deals with the way in which we search for humanity in a world that's constantly trying to rob us of it.
The plot centers on Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), the Harvard undergrad who patented what came to be the largest social club on Earth. We see him struggle with his awkward social skills, his relentless need for approval and success, and eventually with the lawsuits he got from people claiming he'd robbed the idea from them.
As played by Eisenberg, Mark is a complicated, trying to be complex, guy who seems to be looking for acceptance while being driven by overpowering ambition. When we first meet him, he's practically insulting his girlfriend Erica (Mara) but he reacts in a way that we understand he means to do no harm. His defense mechanism of using bitterness, sarcasm and asshole-ness have become his modus operandi.
When he's approached by the Winklevoss twins (played brilliantly by Hammer) who want him to take part in their new project, Mark's faux condescending reaches a turning point: we see this man has chosen his identity and like the website he would create, has decided to create a facade of who he is.
Because regardless of how much people show on Facebook, the truth is that it still remains a canvas where we paint our lives the way we want others to see them. Regardless of the nature of the contents, everything that's on Facebook is there because we know people will see it and more than that, we want people to see it.
Therefore Eisenberg's immersion into Zuckerberg is not as much an impersonation as it's an embodiment of a spirit. Not to say that he makes Mark just a symbol, because he infuses him with painful human traits, but he seems to be aiming more towards understanding what would drive someone to do the things Zuckerberg allegedly did; instead of focusing on representing the way in which he comes off in public.
This dialectic between what we are and what we show might be the center of the film. One that's already a strange beast for what it is on a technical level.
On one side we have Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, which recalls the fast paced exchanges of classics like His Girl Friday and anything Woody Allen has done. Despite the extreme quotability of the dialogs, the painfully funny jokes that Sorkin inserts in the most unexpected moments and the overall "movie" feeling of the way in which he constructs these characters, at the end of the film they are essentially human and real.
This, in combination with the supreme cast, make for an odd, but never awkward, pairing of clever wording and natural representation. Each character and each scene in the film have been structured in such a classic way that we understand what some people mean when they said that "they don't make them like they used to". The Social Network has the kind of screenplay that defies categorization: it can make you laugh, gasp and jump in excitement, yet with all of its wit and shattering sarcasm it's also the kind of movie that will break your heart.
When the film ends we might not understand more about the characters and the creation of Facebook (we certainly don't like or identify with most of what we've seen) but this is a movie where you leave the theater and have the impression that the characters' lives continued after the credits started rolling.
This isn't owed to the obvious fact that all of these people are still alive but the story is told with such urgency that it just can not be bound by celluloid.
This energy is owed to David Fincher, the maverick genius who has specialized in pushing the boundaries of what people are comfortable watching onscreen. His ability to extract cheap sentiment from even the most seemingly manipulative screenplay might be compared by some to extracting someone's soul.
Yet the truth is that Fincher is no demonic exorcist, in fact he's an avid student of what makes the soul what it is. He fools us by doing this, not in the way Hollywood has used us to (i.e. using melodrama and extreme manipulation) but by doing it in an almost procedural way. Fincher dissects everything until getting to the heart of it.
It's even more surprising that he grabs onto the very structure of Facebook to create his film. It might take several screenings to realize that The Social Network isn't very different from the site it discusses so much. Like Facebook we perceive mostly walls in which the characters express themselves.
We see Zuckerberg's obnoxious nerdiness, the Winklevoss' studly All-American poses and Eduardo Saverin's (Garfield) inherent goodness. Yet taking a deeper look at what lies beneath their facades, what they keep "private" so to speak, they become completely different beings.
Like Facebook, the film is selfcontained on an ever changing canvas that varies on mood, feeling and even state of sobriety.
Because of this, the site's creation during the film becomes less "geek talk" and more encoded language for these people's true identities. There is not much difference between the societal circles in Network and say the constricted, almost baroque stylistic choices of Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence.
Perhaps what Fincher is pointing to all along, is that despite the migration from traditional values to virtual ones, we're still essentially the same people, looking for the same things.
Our pursuit of happiness hasn't changed, what's changed is the way in which we conceal it. Whether we create corporations to get over the one that got away, or sink in eternal self pity and tragedy, The Social Network makes a case for what keeps on being our collective innermost fear: the curse of lifelong solitude.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fair Game ***

Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Naomi Watts
Sean Penn
Sam Shepard, Ty Burrell, Noah Emmerich
Bruce McGill, Brooke Smith

Perhaps casting Sean Penn as former US diplomat Joseph Wilson isn't the most subtle way of expressing your film's liberal agenda. Not only is the actor one of the most politically outspoken celebrities in the world, he also has become a universal symbol for portraying tragic heroes who more often than not are screwed by the system they're trying to change.
What continues being remarkable about Penn though is the way in which he makes each of these characters completely his own.
As Wilson, he's the epitome of suburban discontent. When we see him take on each of his dinner parties as if he was taking part in a huge political debate we understand this is a man who has fully assumed the idea that democracy begins with each of us.
It's even a more pleasant surprise when we see him become "human" when he's with his wife Valerie Plamer (Watts). She's a CIA agent who spends half her time traveling around the world organizing top secret missions for the government.
When the Iraq war breaks and Wilson makes it known that after investigating abroad, no evidence of actual weapons of mass destruction were found (which instantly might remind you of Penn's 2004 Oscar acceptance speech), his wife is outed by government officials and their life becomes a harsh "he said they said" game as they face the fact that they have been betrayed by the very system they were trying to protect.
This turns Fair Game into a strange hybrid movie that's one part thriller, two parts domestic drama and a lot of political outrage. In a time when films choose to be so blatantly subtle or encode everything through alien, monster or fantastic metaphors, it's actually refreshing to see a movie that expresses its deep dissatisfaction with the state of the world.
Watts gives yet another electrifying performance, making Valerie a woman who has to choose where her loyalties stand under the eye of the press, the government and family.
Few performers would be able to expose themselves so much without recurring to cheap trickery and mannerisms. Watching the actress as Valerie is watching a testament for the way in which films have always been the most powerful medium of ideas.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Short Takes: Les amours imaginaires, Ondine

Based on his first two films you can tell that Xavier Dolan was the kind of guy who kept a journal in which he wrote about his first kiss next to a haiku about the Monet exhibit he'd just attended. His films express exactly the same thing and as an actor/writer/director he comes off looking as one of the following: a hipster wunderkind or a pretentious artsy douchebag.
Regardless of your personal opinion of the man working on all levels of the film, what's true is that Dolan has quite impeccable taste and this can be seen in the way he pays tribute (or steals from) Godard, Wong Kar Wai and Pasolini among other cinema greats.
What might appeal to so many about his work is that in a way he brings these arts down to the angsty teenager masses, for what is Les amours imaginaires if not an attempt to express, or perhaps conceal, his inner demons filtered through the higher arts.
The plot of the movie is nothing if not inconsequential (two best friends fall for the same guy) and while sometimes you can see the director trying too hard to make a big deal out of some things (like his homosexuality) the truth is that the film is expressed beautifully through the eyes of someone who's still growing up; if everything in the film feels like a tiny drama taken out of proportions it's precisely because it's what it is! This is a film for all the drama queens in the world who also happen to have a taste for Asian cinema and the French nouvelle vague.

As if trying to recreate the strange lyrical romanticism he achieved with The Crying Game, Neil Jordan tackles on something more mythological in Ondine: a tale of a fisherman named Syracuse (Farrell) who catches a mysterious young woman (Bachleda) with his fishing net.
Romance ensues as we begin to know who the enigmatic Ondine actually is. Farrell works his underrated sensitivity to the most and he seems smitten by Ondine, but the leading lady lacks the charm to trap us as well. The lovely surroundings give the film an antique quality but Jordan's last act twist, in which he tries to have his fairy tale cake and eat it too, makes for a fishy finale.

Les amours imaginaires ***
Ondine **