Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.


With horror posters going lazier and lazier every day, it was quite refreshing to see this one-sheet for The Cabin in the Woods, which is comprised of...wait for it, critics' blurbs! It probably makes sense that if you make a horror movie and it, gasp, gets good critical notices, you're going to want to feature them somewhere. Then again if you have the likes of Chris Hemsworth in your movie you'd also want to show him, right? The boldness of this poster alone is enough to guarantee I'll be watching this ASAP.

When you're a Woody Allen movie you have to be prepared to receive criticism for every single thing you do. If you're good, you still will never be as good as Annie Hall, if you're bad, you're an offense to humanity and your maker should suddenly be arrested and jailed for marrying his step-daughter. If your maker cared about all the crap people will say about you, you'd never be released. However your maker loved making you so much that you should be proud of him and face the world with dignity. Who cares if your poster looks like it was put together by Nancy Meyers' sloppy marketing team? At least you can brag about boasting one of the most charmingly peculiar casts ever put together.

Excited about either of these releases? Wondering how on earth can Woody still make a movie a year?

The Hunger Games ***½

Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley
Paula Malcomson, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland
Stanley Tucci, Amandla Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Jack Quaid

One of the most disturbing realizations upon watching The Hunger Games is that the post-apocalyptic story revolves around a reality television show; meaning that yes, reality television programs are the entertainment equivalent of cockroaches and might survive much nobler art forms after the end of times. The show in this case is a twisted version of the Olympics titled "The Hunger Games", held every year by members of the Capitol to remember their violent history. During the games, twenty four men and women - between the ages of 12 to 18 - represent their districts and battle each other to death, until only one victor remains.
The movie concentrates on the 74th edition of the games and mainly follows Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) the female tribute from the impoverished District 12. Katniss is an expert hunter who has been providing for her family since the death of her father in a mining accident (event which we see exclusively through dialogue-free flashbacks), it's her deep love for her little sister Prim (Shields) that drives her to offer herself as volunteer after Prim is chosen.
Katniss, along with male tribute Peeta (Hutcherson) and their mentor Haymitch (Harrelson), travel to the Capitol guided by the extravagant Effie Trinket (Banks), where they experience for the first time the riches and luxuries they would've never dreamt of having in their districts. But this land is no Oz and serves them merely as the lavish waiting room where they await their eventual participation in the games.
Eventually they are thrown onto a field populated with deathly traps, genetically engineered critters and more terrifying: other human beings whose only purpose is to survive.
Whatever the movie needs to say about the sad reality of entertainment in our times, in which suffering and schadenfreude seem to be the one thing audiences need to be happy, isn't as disturbing as the way in which it's told.
The Hunger Games, based on the popular book by Suzanne Collins, seems to be a critique of dumbed down entertainment but going beyond the genre limitations, it actually forces us to look beyond what we think of as "entertainment".
More than addressing the ridiculousness of reality television, which if nothing else is a disturbingly precise metaphor for "efficient capitalism" (minimum effort maximizing profit), we also come to terms with how journalism has become a sort of Roman sport in its own way.
Watching the film you are more reminded of CNN than you are of Survivor, especially when it's suggested that the games are broadcast twenty four hours a day. The film doesn't try to get to the source of this blood thirst, instead it focuses on one of the stars.
As played by Lawrence, Katniss is a young woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. The hunger in her eyes goes beyond putting a piece of bread in her mouth, it speaks of revenge, hatred and manipulation. Katniss isn't completely likable and that's what makes her so fascinating to watch.
Few actresses are able to empty themselves completely in the effortless way Lawrence does. It seems to take her absolutely nothing to "play" someone. In the movie, Katniss is forced to pretend she has a crush on Peeta, if only to get sponsors who might help her win.
Watching the way in which the lovestruck young man looks at Katniss, we aren't only convinced that she is playing the part to perfection, we also begin to question the nature of emotions. Several movies fail because they think of love as something pure and divine, The Hunger Games succeeds because it understands that love after all might be nothing more than a human creation.
Directed with utmost precision by Gary Ross, the film takes on the harsh task of transforming a novel told in the first person, into a movie that deals with the machinations of a larger social scheme. Ross understands that even this kind of brutality must be entertaining and crafts a movie that feels profound without dangling on extreme snobbery. The film becomes especially effective when we realize it's a direct representation of the story being told.
Novels tell us, movies show us and The Hunger Games then quite literally becomes "The Hunger Games", as we watch actors pretend to be young people who kill each other. Unlike the gamemakers in his movie, Ross is a merciful director and he spares us the need to watch extreme violence. He also denies us the pleasure of getting to know the characters better, which could come off as cold hearted but in all honesty, when's the last time you "knew" the Olympic games competitors? This lack of intimacy makes the film feel even more realistic, its points the more prescient and appropriate. It doesn't avoid the moral dilemmas, it simply establishes that it would never be able to solve them. Does your favorite Olympic sporting event change when one of the teams or competitors comes from a poor country? Perhaps in the future our desire to entertain ourselves will be directly connected to our selfish sense of survival. The movie reminds us that even then, once it's over, we can simply look away from the screen and move on with our lives.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Style Sunday.

That magnificent creature known to us earthlings as Jennifer Lawrence has been making the rounds to promote The Hunger Games (which I saw twice this weekend and am devoting an altar to) and has rarely looked better. Although that's not fair to say considering she's never done a faux pas when it comes to fashion. Here in this forest green Calvin Klein collection cocktail dress she lets her cleavage out while remaining elegant. I love that her stylists haven't been treating her like a 30 year old and have softened her makeup and hair. She looks radiant and youthful.

Now, this Prbal Gurung sheath continues the golden/metallic theme she's been doing for this promotional tour and this might be my favorite look of hers so far this year (sorry Oscar nominations day and awesome liquid gold dress from the movie premiere). Her face looks positively angel like and the way in which the dress hugs her body is sexy beyond words. Extra points for those mesh sandals.

Did you see The Hunger Games this weekend? If so, is your love for J.Law now official?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How Does She Do This?

Everyone agrees that the fabulous Jane Krakowski has been the MVP in this endlessly brilliant season of 30 Rock, all of her scenes are pieces of pure comedic heaven. But in the newest episode she managed to steal the show's biggest laughs without even being there:




How is she doing such magic?

Sheet-y Saturday.

Anyone would've assumed that whenever talking of The Great Gatsby the first image that would come to mind would be that of well, Jay Gatsby. Leave it to the brilliant genius that is Baz Luhrmann to reveal that the focus of his attention will in fact be Daisy, played in his movie by the astonishing Carey Mulligan. Here's the thing, Carey has one of those faces that inspire awws and heart shaped gestures, however she has never felt like a true "woman" in the sense that her ethereal beauty rarely allows her to become a fully sexual being. The Carey we are presented in this poster though has a different pair of eyes (kudos to the makeup department as this will surely be yet another Baz beauty extravaganza) eyes that seem wiser. However the real question is why did Baz choose to hide Leo's unarguably more recognizable face?

Share your thoughts!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

(My) Best of 2011: Supporting Actress

5. Jennifer Lawrence in The Beaver

Jennifer Lawrence has one of those faces made to encompass the concept of All-American Girl however she has the acting chops to subvert these very notions and turn them into enigmatic traits. Take her performance in Jodie Foster's vastly underrated work of art The Beaver, here Lawrence plays Norah, a high-school girl who also happens to be a cheerleader, valedictorian and an underground graffiti artist. While lesser actresses would've conformed with letting the character do all the work, Lawrence taps onto something great: she recognizes the deep humanity that lies beneath the seemingly perfect shell and turns Norah into the most haunting characters in an already enthralling film.

4. Jennifer Ehle in Contagion

In an ensemble piece that feels more Nashville than Gosford Park it results kind of difficult for one actor to make a more lasting impact than others, particularly when their stories barely intersect and each of them end up commanding tiny movies of their own. In the case of Contagion it would seem almost impossible to choose between the impressively moving work of Kate Winslet, the vanity free performance of  Gwyneth Paltrow or the worldly wisdom projected by the lovely Marion Cotillard and yet it's the subtle work of Jennifer Ehle that stays with you and lingers for weeks after you see the movie. Playing the part of a dedicated scientist most of her scenes are actually dialogue-free. However watching the way her Meryl Streep-ian features light up is nothing if not magical. Ehle has the kind of face that evokes Falconetti and Streep in equal measures, the camera becomes so transfixed by her ethereal beauty that she needs but to muster a smile to let us into the secrets of creation.


3. Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method

Year after year Keira Knightley seems to be delivering astonishing work that goes by without people making a fuss about it. Why? Her work in a movie like A Dangerous Method for example would get countless actresses hyperbolic comments about their craft and such. The way in which the young actress immerses herself into the character of Sabina Spielrein proves she possesses talents that go beyond her years. The way she allows the character to possess her is almost too disturbing to watch. The way in which Sabina's inner demons surface in shocking demonic moves makes Keira look completely awful, her notorious jaw and underbite deforming her lovely features and yet out of all of this - done without prosthetic work or special effects - Keira is always able to come back and find the latent humanity in this woman. She turns in absolutely moving work and steals the show from both Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen; watching her squirm with pleasure as Carl Jung (Fassbender) whips her might just send you into nervous shock.

2. Jessica Chastain in The Help

We all know Jessica Chastain had the most terrific year any actress could've ever wished for. Her presence in some of the most important pictures of 2011 turned into a recurrent joke, where everyone assumed in reality she'd literally been in every single movie. The beauty of  the Chastain effect however wasn't her perseverance but the quality of her work. She was the MVP in each of those movies she was in! She created different characters whose only common denominator was the actress playing them, other than that you could never see any of her conflicted Samantha from Take Shelter in the haunting performance she turned in The Tree of Life. However even within her flawless list of performances it was her affecting turn as Celia Foote in The Help the one which might very well become the most iconic of her short career. Filling the colorful 60's costumes and donning an outrageous blond wig, Chastain plays the ultimate ditzy blond, who moves into a town where she is hated for representing everything others only dream they could be. In a movie that takes intolerance to the front of the equation, it's her beautifully nuanced performance that comments on the way in which hatred can go beyond the confines of race, sex or religion. With the comedic timing of Judy Holliday and the whoop-dee-doop sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe, Chastain is more remarkable in quiet scenes where Celia's true persona surfaces. She might be all sunshine and smiles on the outside but we learn that she crafted this persona in order to survive in a world that would crush her without giving it a second thought.

1.Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia

Lars von Trier has earned a reputation for torturing and destroying any actress who come near him. This results in quite the paradox when you see the performances he gets out of women in his films. It should mean something then - both for Lars and his ways and tough love in general - to see how Charlotte Gainsbourg has flourished under his direction. She was absolutely ravishing in Antichrist turning a performance that fearlessly dared to carry all the evil of the world upon its shoulders. Conversely her work in Melancholia seems almost saintlike. Playing Claire, the sister of depressed bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst), Gainsbourg effortlessly overcomes what could've been one of the film's biggest setbacks: the fact that no one in the family seems to be even remotely related. Instead of focusing on the differences between Claire and Justine, Gainsbourg devotes her performance to making them familiar because of the intense love they share. The way in which the actress seems to take pleasure in comforting the petite Dunst exudes warmth and a humanity unlike anything you've ever seen in a von Trier film. Even as she has to cope with her own fears and pain - after all a huge planet is about to destroy Earth - Gainsbourg gives a mature, unfathomably brave performance. She only allows Claire to break down during the very last moments of the film and unlike Dunst who is always one minute away from exploding with the joys of new discoveries, Gainsbourg always seems to have the knowledge of the world. Watching the way Claire's entire life flashes by in Gainsbourg's eyes in a matter of seconds isn't only testament to her prowess as an actress, it also reminds us of the beauty and fragility of life. 

Key Moment of the 90s.

Head over to PopMatters and read my review for what I think is the greatest movie of the 1990s. Disagree? Let me know why!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

(My) Best of 2011: Supporting Actor

5. Kiefer Sutherland in Melancholia

Lars von Trier's movies never seem to give space for his male actors to thrive. More often than not men are "pawns" of sorts in the larger scheme of the female driven universes created by the mad Dane. Just think of the fates of Willem Dafoe in Antichrist and Stellan Skarsgard in Breaking the Waves. Because it's often the women who give the most arresting performances in his movies, it seems that the men are a bit underrated and what he achieves with Kiefer Sutherland in Melancholia should by no means go by unnoticed. Playing the loyal husband of Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) he divides himself drastically in the movie's two chapters, in the first he has to play a strong head-of-the-house who tries to make his sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) understand that despite his affection for her, he is still the, literal, king of his castle. His strong charisma shifts in the latter chapter to give way to a man who quite simply loses all faith in the things that had supported him before: science and love. Watching his destruction parallel to the "larger" events going on might be all the more haunting because Sutherland never allows his character's limitations to prevent him from being completely unforgettable.

4. John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene

There is something so seductive about John Hawkes in this movie that defies all laws of attraction. Why would anyone want to be with someone who forces them into an alternative but violent cult, constantly rapes you, makes you fall in love with him and then not only ignores you but makes you aid him in finding new lovers? Yet somehow that's what he does as Patrick, in Sean Durkin's remarkable directorial debut. There is something so effortless about the way in which Hawkes movies in front of the camera, something so menacing about the way he looks when he smiles and yet we totally "get" why the title character (Elizabeth Olsen) can't stay away from him for long. This performance must be what they mean by "magnetic".

3. Chris New in Weekend

New is the epitome of alluring in Andrew Haigh's Weekend, what's so remarkable and fascinating about his character and his performance is how completely blasé he seems while harboring an explosive combination of emotions inside. His Glen seems like a free spirit, a bit on the politically incorrect side but the actor goes beyond the confines of the "bohemian" character's traits and finds something rather touching in him. The way in which Glen always seems to be both intensely interested in Russell (Tom Cullen) while wanting to run away, punches you right in the gut in the most unexpected moments. His line deliveries are magical and there's no way you would be able to say no to having him tape your sexual history. On a shallow note - which somehow adds to the constant wonderment of his performance - never expected him to be the top.

2. Bruce Greenwood in Meek's Cutoff

There is very little information on who Stephen Meek was exactly, yet what Bruce Greenwood does in Kelly Reichardt's revisionist western feels as if someone found a time machine and brought the legendary explorer back to life. Greenwood is practically unrecognizable behind the shaggy beard and oversized hat that Meek wears and his performance may lack the "excitement" associated with playing historical figures. Yet perhaps because the actor had a pretty much empty canvas to portray the character as he found fit, he comes up with a thing of true beauty, creating a harsh, soulless creature that demands your attention and always ends up winning your favor. No other performance in 2011 captured the "rock star"-ness of current politics like this one, he reminded us that we're living in a world where politicians need only but to charm us before we are willing to get lost in the labyrinth of their lies.

1. Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris


It must be telling that while Woody Allen has abstained of tackling biopics or historical characters throughout his legendary career, several of his fictitious creations seem to take on a life of their own outside the realms of his movies. Try convincing people that Zelig wasn't a real being, that you can't find Emmet Ray albums in record stores or that Hannah and her sisters don't actually live somewhere in NYC... It was a real surprise then to see him explore some of the most famous artists of the 20th century in his enchanting Midnight in Paris, which not only resulted in the best movie he's done in over twenty years but also reminded us of the Woodsman's more playful side. Allen has always tried to represent and preserve his personal tastes through his movies and it makes sense that the ones in Paris are some of his all-time favorites, what's remarkable is how he manages to give them their own life while imprinting the Woody Allen touch on them. Best in show is Corey Stoll who fills the screen with testosterone and bravado playing none other than Ernest Hemingway. Even when he's reciting passages of Hemingway's life adjusted to the straightforward nature of his writing, Stoll gives the legend a suspicious earthy feeling. No scenes in the movie feel as alive as those that feature him and the way he always looks into the horizon as if both recalling specifics and planning his next masterpiece will certainly leave you wanting more.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shallow Post of the Month.

I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when I saw the man above featured in Le Havre. Why? you ask, well he's rather handsome and "my type" for starters and also, this is an Aki Kaurismäki movie, in which people are supposed to look like this:



Most of them do of course, given that the Finnish genius is perhaps only comparable to Fellini and Almodóvar in his thorough studies of human beauty far from Hollywood conventions. Anyway, as you were...

Style Sunday.

You all know I was obsessed with Jennifer Lawrence during the 2011 awards season. At 19 she kept blowing our minds and expectations with gorgeous look after look. Kudos for always finding the way to explore iconic designers while giving an opportunity to maverick geniuses (her red Calvin Klein at the Oscars was simplicity turned into orgasmic couture) This time around to promote The Hunger Games, Lawrence is simply divine in Prabal Gurung. The gold fabric might be a bit too reminiscent of Meryl's Oscar dress (who would've thought Meryl would influence fashion someday?) and the slit might be too Angelina (but J.Law keeps it classy!) but overall what works so well is that it's a classic look with a hip touch. Gotta love the smoky eyes and how she went for a loose hairdo instead of the severity the dress might've invited.

Are you as fascinated by J.Law's  remarkable sense of fashion as I am?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ****

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara
Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Yorick van Wageningen
Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Goran Višnjić, Joel Kinnaman
Embeth Davidtz, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James
Julian Sands, Josefin Asplund

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo takes place in a godless land, where what once was mystical and spiritual, has been replaced by an omnipresent respect for technology. For a director that has explored the viciousness of modern society with such an emphasis on the machinery - both literal and figurative - behind the human psyche, this adaptation of the Stieg Larsson bestseller, might very well be his most personal work to date.
In it, David Fincher once again establishes himself as the master of all things "procedural" but he also seems to be reaching out towards questions that lie outside the realm of computer chips and science. This is the first movie in which he acknowledges the fact that some people truly believe there are things that are inexplicable and that there just might be a god.
Of course, Fincher doesn't rely on the sensuous scope of a Terrence Malick movie, or even the aggressive interrogations of Lars von Trier, instead he explores this notion through the elements that have always worked for him. This is why the heroine in this film, Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is an expert hacker with serious social disabilities. She sits on the outskirts of a society that has made her feel foreign (that the movie opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" is a strike of genius) and has made the conscious decision to rely specifically on her knowledge.
Lisbeth's job is to do research, which in less fancy terms means she hacks people's computers, bank accounts and any other sort of electronic device in order to figure out who they are. This obviously helps her decipher people's economic and social behavior, but it doesn't really help her connect with them, discover who they are behind the public facade.
That's why when she is asked to comment on the personality of Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) - a fallen from grace journalist she's been investigating - she can only add that she thinks he should perform more cunnilingus on his lover. Isn't our bedroom behavior, the one thing not everyone can have access to?
Blomkvist is hired by aging magnate Henrik Vagner (Plummer) to help him discover what happened to his niece who disappeared mysteriously more then four decades before. The reluctant journalist takes on the mission and soon his path will cross with Lisbeth's.
Larsson's novel shocked worldwide audiences because it revealed a portrait of Sweden that wasn't "conceivable". One where technology moguls and former Nazis (always the Nazis!) controlled the business world and constantly violated the widely accepted notion that Sweden was one of the happiest places on earth.
Where Larsson commented on the corruption that flowed within the structure of his country, Fincher observes it not as an overpowering force, but as a series of conflicts between vastly different currents of thought. Superficially every battle in the movie can be summed up as a juxtaposition of the old with the new, but this of course remains entirely subjective as you discover the ramifications of each of the parties.
Perhaps the most obvious dichotomy is the one found between religion and technology, it's as if Fincher is asking if it's impossible for god to exist in a world where technology has made humans almost omnipotent.
While some people might think of organized religion as something normal, most characters in this film react harshly towards displays of faith. Blomkvist's teenage daughter Pernilla (Asplund) reminds her father that she is not dangerous when he sees her say grace before a meal and a member of the Vanger family casually wonders "can you imagine one of us being religious?" as if it was something to run away from.
This is tightly connected to another conflict in the movie, that of civilization vs. nature. Almost every scene set in exteriors is filled with endless menace, from snow storms, to the creepy shadows cast by a forest...it's as if these people have stopped trusting the outside world.
Most scenes set outside of houses and buildings place the characters close enough to a door, as if they need to be prepared to run from something dangerous. This is even more persistent in scenes shot on interiors in which the marvelous DP Jeff Cronenwerth, always tries to keep nature outside. In several scenes glass plays an essential weapon against the perils of nature, especially when Cronenwerth uses it as a reflective surface which fools the characters into thinking that there is nothing to distrust outside.
This can also be linked to what was supposed to be the central theme in the novel, the eternal battle of the sexes, especially that which evolves into misogyny. Blomkvist and Lisbeth run into the possibility of finding a killer of women who not only relies on nature to destroy them, but also seems to be targeting religious people. When to this, you tie the constant mentions of a "new" and "old" Sweden represented by both the denial of the past and the fast evolution of technology, and you realize that Fincher's film was able to go past the lightness of its literary source. For what can an old world mean if not one ran exclusively by patriarchs? One in which women in power were to be feared and destroyed at all costs. During a key moment, Blomkvist and Lisbeth have sex. She is on top and shuts his mouth as she tries to achieve orgasm. His face turns into a canvas on which discomfort and shock are displayed; who does this woman think she is and why is her orgasm more important than mine? Lisbeth may not realize that what she's doing goes against the chauvinist ways that have always ruled the world and throughout the film we are reminded that technology and so called evolution may not be but more tools to maintain this prehistoric nature. Fincher's movie is just as thrilling and pulpy as any audience member would want, but beneath the smooth seal of its auteur lies a twisted study of how we are forever doomed to repeat history.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Every body and their mothers seem to have a soft spot for Tim Burton. I have never found myself seduced by his tiresome odes to the macabre, especially those in which he teams up with the oh-so-dull Johnny Depp. However the trailer for Dark Shadows hit this week and it seems everyone wants to see it, so who am I to deny audiences the pleasure of doing what they want?
The poster does nothing new to the kind of advertising Burton often goes for, notice how HBC looks like his version of Willy Wonka? I am only curious to see what Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green bring to the table...

Another movie about fighters that goes for yellowish meets shadowy art. Groundbreaking...

What's your take on these two one sheets? Am I especially bitter this time around or are these are dull as I think?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Short Take: "This Means War" and "Friends with Kids".

We get it, romance has evolved with the changing times and the movies have to adjust to the new ways in which people meet and fall in love, however this shouldn't mean that in the process we also must relinquish our human dignity, something that This is War not only suggests but encourages.
Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are two CIA secret agents who are "grounded" after ruining a mission and spend their boring office time trying to meet women. Tuck is a romantic with old fashioned ways who recurs to online dating to meet someone, FDR is a playboy who beds a different woman every night. They accidentally end up setting eyes on the same woman, consumer marketing expert, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) who by dating different men finds the perfect outlet to escape from her ex-boyfriend's shadow, try out her wilder sexual side and practice housekeeping. Where the movie suggests that Lauren is a hands on, ultra feminist woman, the plot and character development merely make her dalliances look like irresponsible promiscuity and of course, she is the only one getting accused of it, the guys and their jobs make them look like heroes who have earned the right to use their security clearance to harass the woman they think they're in love with. For all its misogyny, double standards and ultra conservative morality (you know who Lauren will pick from the very start) the film's greatest mistake is how utterly joyless it feels. Witherspoon seems to have forgotten how to be bubbly and charming, while Hardy and Pine hardly make for heroes worth pining for. The only war this movie declares is one against the intelligence and taste of its audience.

If you were one of those die-hard fans who were craving a Friends reunion, Friends with Kids should be the movie to dispel those wishes. Even if it's in no way associated to the popular TV show, the film works as a post-finale version of it, given that it un-creatively matches three women with three men to create the same dynamic as the series. Two of the couples are together and have started families, the single friends are those eternal bachelor (Adam Scott) and bachelorette (Jennifer Westfeldt) who seem to enjoy their "freedom" too much to lose it just to fit in with social norms.
In order to prove how awesome they are, the two friends decide to have a child and raise it without the typical family structure, of course their plan backfires as the movie conservatively reminds us that friends can't have sex and remain just friends, that children need two parents to be happy, that marriage is something we should all aspire to, and an assortment of other stereotypes that romantic comedies and dramas have helped perpetuate.
The problem at this point isn't whether they are right or not (morality and ethics aren't as universal as we'd think) but that movies like these pretend they will defy the conventional, only to become even more stilted and predictable themselves. The ending in Friends with Kids for example seems to be straight out of a cheesy 80s movie and the thing is that writer/director Westfeldt does not deliver it with a wink, she really thinks her movie is sincere.
More than a decade ago, Westfeldt brilliantly explored alternative sexual orientations in the wonderful Kissing Jessica Stein, if the characters in her new movie spent doing as much melancholy but hilarious soul searching as the characters in that one did, instead of screaming, cursing and dashing off dinner tables when upset we might've had our hands on a movie with some insight. Instead what we get are grownups who have replaced toys with wine, espresso machines and cursing to hide the fact that they are really nothing but kids.


Grades
This Means War ½
Friends With Kids *

Heat Wave.

Head over to PopMatters and read my review for My Week with Marilyn.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Style Sunday.

Julianne Moore has been making the rounds to promote Game Change, the movie where she plays former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Moore hasn't been sporting any pantsuits, fortunately and instead is giving us pure Hollywood glamour. She is divine in this lush Lanvin column dress. Moore rarely goes for black and white so she actually looks simply fresh in this.

Juli knows green does wonders to her complexion and it's always a thrill to see her wearing it. This avant garde Tom Ford design perfectly blends two shades of green in a dress that evokes both Joan Crawford and Tilda Swinton.

Do you love Juli on the red carpet too?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Up until a few minutes ago I had no idea what Moonrise Kingdom was about, now that I know, this poster is a thing of beauty. However before finding out what the plot was, the poster gave me a slightly creepy vibe, it reminded me of a Todd Solondz movie and we all know those aren't exactly fuzzy and cute.

What does the Moonrise Kingdom one-sheet say to you?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Devil Inside ½

Director: William Brent Bell
Cast: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth
Ionut Grama, Suzan Crowley

If by any chance you hadn't had enough of the "found footage", "mock documentary" style of horror movie, here comes the one that should hopefully end it for good. The Devil Inside might just be the most preposterous  entry in a filmmaking technique that peaked, and should've ended, with the superbly done The Blair Witch Project.
This one focuses on that oh-so-tired mean of scaring audiences: the exorcism and sets the first part of its story in the 80s where a woman (Crowley) murders three clergy members who were performing an exorcism on her. The Catholic church intervenes, without acknowledging the truth of what happened, and has the woman moved to Rome (as if an American citizen would really be moved to a foreign country just because...) where she remains hospitalized for twenty years, until her daughter Isabella (Andrade) packs her bags and goes to Europe, accompanied by a camera guy (Grama) who's making a movie about her case.
In Rome, Isabella realizes her mom might be possessed by demons after all and with the help of two new age-y priests (Quarterman and Helmuth) tries to rid her of them.
As with the Paranormal Activity movies, the only real appeal in this one is figuring out how they will use special effects without messing up the DIY aesthetics. Smart visuals of course, might be the lowest priority behind The Devil Inside which relies on tired stereotypes about the Catholic church, exorcisms and horror.
There is not a single moment in the movie that can be deemed scary, unless you count the whole experience of watching this instead of reading a book or having a good meal as timely reminders of mortality and wasting one's time.
There is one scene where Grama's character sits in front of the camera during a confessional moment, there he expresses his disgust with the way in which the demons and other characters have no regard for the filmmaker's duty. For one second the film seems like it might try and explore the harrowing experience of shooting something, an angle that would've been fascinating in this sub-genre that all but takes the camera for granted (have you noticed that nobody in these movies ever drops or leaves behind the camera?) but before you can say "the power of Christ compels you", it's back to its old, cheap trickery.
The Devil Inside for all that matters isn't even a complete movie as it reaches a rushed, halfway there climax that leaves the plot incomplete...Not that anyone would want to spend more time in its company any way.

Short Take: "Young Adult" and "A Dangerous Method".

The biggest problem with all of Jason Reitman's movies is that his characters never humanize the nifty, clever concepts they represent. Juno for example, never really was more than a smart-ass teenager who failed sex-ed, Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air failed to becomes something more than a symbol of the recession and  his female sidekicks in that one, were flat portrayals of society's insistence that women must play either whores or ice-queens. 
It results pleasantly surprising then to find a real human being in what posed to be Reitman's most artificial character yet. Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) had all the potential to become a caricature: a beautiful but emotionally hollow divorcee, who writes young adult fiction and decides to visit her hometown just to get her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) back.
Yet what Theron does defies expectations of both the character and the actress' own ability to use her beauty to construct an even more beautiful performance. Mavis is quite an ugly person, she drinks too much, holds contempt for everyone she knows and seems to have no regard whatsoever for anything or anyone that isn't her. As written by Diablo Cody, Mavis has remained trapped in eternal adolescence, she is the ultimate "mean girl". As played by Theron she is a flawed human being who has earned a right to be this way. The actress doesn't look for easy explanations, other than the fact that Mavis is truly a unique person who can not be defined by societal standards. It's a pleasure to see Theron, for once, collaborating with her extraordinary physique; she doesn't hide it under makeup, prosthetic pieces or miner wear, she owns up to it in such a way that during the movie's most tender scene, she actually allows herself to be "ugly" selfconsciously. She also displays a knack for comedic timing (she and Patton Oswalt make the most unique comedy duo of 2011) and if anything else, she proves that the best acting comes from within. Check out the last scene in this movie, you never get to hate and love someone this much.

Christopher Hampton's screenplays often boast astonishing literary pedigree and more often than not feel almost too pompous in their achievements. While this might've worked perfectly for the nihilist seducers of Dangerous Liaisons it truly feels misguided in A Dangerous Method, a film that like Liaisons and Atonement, features a fascinating menage a trois through which the author explores the darkest desires of the human mind.
The issue is that this time around, the characters are real life people and quite notorious for that matter. The plot centers on the relationship between Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and her psychoanalysts: Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Spielrein goes from being Jung's patient, to becoming his mistress which leads to melodramatic consequences and her eventual treatment with Freud.
For decades, David Cronenberg has been one of the most consistent researchers of what moves human sexuality and what desire consists of. It makes sense then that he would try to get to the essence of it by studying the men who obsessed over this as much as he did.
If Cronenebrg movies prove something is that the erotic element can be completely removed from intercourse and added to different elements. "Pleasure is never simple" adds one of the characters in this movie and the truth is that Cronenberg has been much more successful in exploring the complicated turns of sexuality in movies like Crash and even A History of Violence which successfully links the thrill of crime with the jolt achieved during an orgasm.
The film feels too polished for the subject it explores and its intellectualism is too often stalled by Hampton's excessive theatricality (the screenplay was based on his eponymous play). Perhaps the problem is that the movie is stuck between wanting to be a biopic and an auterist essay. Needless to say so, the cast is truly extraordinary with Mortensen creating a Freud for the ages. The actor infuses the famed analyst with his knack for knowing more about a character than he lets the audience knows. Watching his subtly passionate attempt to convince Jung of his beliefs is a true joy to watch and considering he could've spent the movie smoking cigars and mimicking Freud, his performance taps into something far more extraordinary.
The movie however owes itself to Knightley's brilliant work who as Spielrein gives the best performance of her career. Allowing her body to transform itself as Sabina endures the pain of her disorder, the actress disappears only to then blossom as her character finds new hope through intellectual development.

Grades
Young Adult ***
A Dangerous Method ***

Monday, March 5, 2012

Head over to PopMatters and read my review of A Star is Born.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Style Sunday.

Yow-za! How on earth does Helen Mirren get hotter with age is something that will always defy logic, science and common sense. She is the epitome of sexy in this curve hugging Dolce and Gabbana dress. The color is impeccable and requires the person who wears it can pull it off (I'm looking at you Golden Globes' MiWi). Mirren's hair contrasts beautifully with the powerful hue and her choice of accessories is flawless.

Do you have any theories on how and why Mirren looks so amazing?

Class.



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sheet-y Saturday.

This exclusive poster for John Carter was designed by J.C. Richard for a special Mondo screening of the upcoming film and it's utterly perfect. The soft colors recall the excitement of finding a washed out sci-fi paperback among your dad's belongings and the detailing demands you look at it forever. The canyons, the color of the skies, the planets above, the thrill of that beam coming out of a spaceship...and then the single human being standing in awe of all of this. This one sheet makes us become John Carter and as such it's truly a work of art.

Excited about this movie?