Saturday, April 28, 2012

Happy birthday, you magnificent woman. Now please get back to work!

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.


Even if this poster is absolutely ridiculous in terms of laziness (Nancy Meyers much, anyone?) there is something about Meryl Streep that always makes everything better. Her sly look and smile in this picture, accompanied by the title of the book she's reading, tell us more about the movie than the trailer! Apparently the marketing team was aware of this and they decided to concentrate just on the picture and make the rest a mess of typography, colors (where should I read first?) and unreadable taglines.  

Charlize Theron is badasssss and that's pretty much all there is to this.

Which of these two do you think represent their movies best? Excited about post-Oscar Meryl?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Head over to PopMatters and read my review for A Trip to the Moon.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

(My) Best of 2011: Picture

10. Meek's Cutoff

Kelly Reichardt's revisionist Western was the greatest political movie of 2011. Combining post-feminist theories with a clear questioning of the Obama administration, the film used a historical event to sketch a very accurate portrait of the current state of America. Bruce Greenwood gives a brilliant performance as the charming Stephen Meek, a pioneering explorer leading three families to new territories, who refuses to acknowledge the fact that he has lost his way and is dragging them along to perdition. The film's ambiguous finale, made all the more fascinating because it happened due to budget problems, actually works as an unintentional but poignant reflection of a world economy that is making freedom of expression a luxury.

9. The Tree of Life

For decades, Terrence Malick has been one of the very few working artists who has proved to be in utter and complete awe of our planet and its creation. Instead of following the path of other filmmakers who more and more try to conceal their characters from nature or others who altogether decide to move their stories to different planets, Malick preserves an utmost spirit of wonderment. He is fascinated with the process of "creation" which usually gives his movies a Christian feel. However, in The Tree of Life he reminds us that atonement has little to do with organized religion and more with unity, at-one-ment. His movie might seem like a dream comprised of dinosaurs, abusive parents and traumas, but judging from the way in which one reacts to it, it's more similar to mystical ecstasy than facile psychology.

8. Drive

Nicolas Winding Refn's neon-noir work of art was a refreshing take on the mythical figure of the American cowboy, who has now moved to the city and remains as mysterious and unbreakable as ever. The visionary director makes his hero, a questionable figure who has to deal with common things like working for a living but it still happens to be ruled by a strict moral code that separates him from other mortals. As portrayed by Ryan Gosling, the nameless Driver is a figure we can admire, fear and lust after. If Refn was trying to make a point about the way we project our desires onto others, he does it while stimulating both our intellect and injecting us with adrenaline. The action sequences in the film have a strange beauty that might not send us flying off our seats with thrills, but stir thoughts within us, similar to what modern art does. Like Mulholland Dr. the film was also a critique to the Hollywood way of life, with Refn both reveling in the artifice of Los Angeles and reveling its polished decay. With its spare dialogues and bright colors, it's as if someone loaded Tarantino on Xanax and asked him to make a 70s Clint Eastwood vehicle using Michael Mann's aesthetic sensibilities.  

7. Certified Copy

Nowadays, it's rarely a joy to encounter a movie that foregoes all notions of traditional plot in order to explore the world of ideas. Most movies that try to do this end up confusing intellectualism with bullshitting and rely on facile tricks to convince us about their intelligence. Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy ought to change that because it finds unbearably touching humanity in a fascinating intellectual essay. Wondering what makes something a "copy" he explores the notions of creation and recreation by using people. Kiarostami could've easily turned his characters into puppets used to channel a message, but like a generous god he provides them with a soul. If only all philosophy was this richly realized...

6. Shame

It's strange to think of it, but the one thing the characters in this movie never seem to feel is actual shame. Michael Fassbender plays a man with a destructive sexual addiction and Carey Mulligan plays his alcoholic and equally chaotic sister. The siblings live in NYC and seem to have carved a personal playground of pain under the city's stars. Other directors could've shamed their characters and reduce them to morally acceptable examples, but Steve McQueen merely observes them and lets them be. The film is filled with scenes of utmost loss and despair but they are treated with such delicate bluntness that we have no choice but to try and empathize with these people. The film's most poignant scene has the siblings watch a cartoon on TV and for a moment it seems like they've found peace. Even if it alludes to the origin of all our problems in our childhood, it also achieves a mystical connection that resembles time travel.

5. Martha Marcy May Marlene

The year's most astonishing debut had Sean Durkin revisit the dreamlike aesthetics of 70s movies while giving Elizabeth Olsen the richest female role of 2011. The film deals with the trappings of a cult and the consequences their practices have on believers. But besides pointing out the perils of submitting yourself to the will of others, the film draws a fascinating parallel line that studies fact and fiction, the way in which we are our own creators and how we can build entire worlds to fit our needs. The title protagonist isn't merely complex because she can become so many different people, she's fascinating because she evokes the never ending process of creation; we are never sure how many people she has been and how many people she will be. The film's technical achievements were unusually inventive and helped the director transmit paranoia in open spaces, making nature both a witness of our distress and an eternal perpetrator of evil.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Who would've guessed that director David Fincher would craft his most personal movie to date from a pulpy bestseller? The way in which he grabbed the story of hacker Lisbeth Salander and ruined journalist Mikael Blomkvist and turned it into an exhilarating conversation with god, was a perfect reminder that art was invented to connect us to what we couldn't explain. Sure, the film succeeds as a fantastic, exciting thriller (something its Swedish predecessor did with just as much efficiency but without the aesthetic grace) but it works at its best when Fincher leads us past the plot twists and points out the fact that we all hide skeletons in our closets, our collection of personal experiences becoming a cabinet of horrors and wonders alike.
That he allowed Lisbeth to dream of love speaks highly of the director's humanistic side, that just as easily he  takes illusion away from her, speaks of his ruthlessness as a creator.

3. Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris was a surprise because it proved for once and for all, that its maker is one of the few artists blessed with the ability to rejuvenate himself when least expected. How can he keep on finding beauty in subjects he's dealt with constantly for more than four decades? How is it that his movies always seem to be about the same things and each time we find ourselves enthralled by their deep wisdom? His love song to Paris and some of his heroes is a remarkably enjoyable piece that pretty much fulfilled whoever saw it. Like enjoying a rich, perfect dessert, the film pleased and delighted without overwhelming the palate, every time it left you wanting more.

2. Melancholia

The end of the world has never been treated with the delicacy Lars von Trier presents it with in Melancholia. Coming from the ode to chaos that was Antichrist it would've been easy to assume that the director had definitely entered a period of complete darkness, for how does once descend into such hell and come back unscathed? Like mythical heroes, von Trier not only emerged from the underworld alive, he came out with a new sense of appreciation for the beauty in life. His movie about the end of the world is tragic yes, but within the deep pain portrayed by his actors and the precision of his almost operatic conduction (he finds a beauty in chaos that people like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich only dream of  achieving) there is something breathtakingly beautiful. He does not relish in making others suffer this time, instead he seems to be for the first time looking at death right in the eyes and embracing the sense of peace found in its irreversible finality.

1. Weekend

There are romances with repercussions that resonate for as long as we live. Said romances usually end before we are ready to give them up. Without us being aware of the fact that we are living something that will establish a "before and after" in our existence, we then discover we revisit these moments forever and they most likely will accompany us to our deathbed. Then, there are movies that deal with these romances. Movies like Casablanca, Lost in Translation, The Way We Were, Brief Encounter...all of which talk of love that was, love that is and love that will forever be. Like said romances, we also find ourselves revisiting these movies in our dreams more often than we'd like to. Can it be that we all harbor a secretly masochist hopeless romantic within? Or is it that real life never fulfills what art promised? Both could be answers that come to mind while watching Andrew Haigh's Weekend, this miniature masterpiece is a lovely exercise in style, execution and transcendence. The way in which the director enters the lives of two men who fall in love over a weekend, is nothing if not exceptional. Haigh has such eye for detail that we have to ask ourselves if this wasn't taken straight from one of his memories, watch how lived in the spaces feel, how effortlessly the actors live within these characters...the magic in Weekend is that it doesn't really feel like a movie, it feels like we're witnessing real life, things happening right in front of us. Where it could've been political, the film forgoes the dynamics of homosexuality and instead focuses on the complexities of humanity. Instead of concentrating on representing specific concepts and conceptions, the film aims to address our hearts without forgetting our minds. If you find yourself thinking about Weekend long after you've seen it, you will understand what the characters felt. The movie sometimes becomes too painful to watch, its simplicity bordering dangerously on docudrama without reducing itself to the tackiness of reality shows. However like a failed romance, there is much more to gain from the movie, than the idea of not having it in your life. To watch this movie is to witness love itself being invented. The precision of its storytelling, a reminder that like everything else, love too must fade. The dreamlike quality of its urban spaces an invitation for us to pursue it no matter what.

Style Sunday.

I'm not sure if I'm more excited about having Pé back in red carpets or because she's doing red carpets for Woody Allen's new movie. Either way she looks like a queen in this flesh colored Dolce & Gabbana dress with a lovely pattern. The pattern is truly exceptional, no? It blends gorgeously with Pé's skin tone and makes for a truly organic look. Gotta love that she put her hair up, which always gives her a regal air. The simple makeup is to die for.

Elizabeth Banks is someone I usually find quite bland. Yes, she has impeccable taste and never looks bad, but I never want to look at her twice, until now. Her risky move by combining these two, extremely different, Peter Pilotto pieces is praise worthy. Sure, the colors are similar and therefore have coherence, but not anyone would dare mix those patterns, put on a pair of thematically related pumps and go out to the world. For that effortless class and cojones, Effie Trinket, I salute you.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Jacques Audiard has a pretty much impeccable record when it comes to making movies. Not only have all his movies given actors the chance to truly shine and explore darker characters, they also have established him as a visual force to be reckoned with. Rust and Bone sounds impossibly hard to understand on paper, but just take a look at the cast, the director's reputation and the gritty marketing campaign they've been using so far. Cotillard seems to be loving the getting down and dirty thing she hasn't really had a chance to do so far, seriously people Edith Piaf wasn't "gritty" and Schoenaerts is fresh off the superb Bullhead in which he pretty much played an animal. The fact that the poster highlights them without really focusing on them is rather interesting. Where is he carrying her? Why is he carrying her? Why is she looking down? Can someone just please release this movie right now?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Festival Time!

Head over to The Film Experience where I talk about the Cannes Festival lineup. Also, isn't it always a good time to post gratuitous Matthias Schoenaert's shirtless pics?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Garner Wishes.

You'd have to be very new around here not to know how much I adore Jennifer Garner. She made my TV life much more exciting and moving for half a decade in Alias and after being kidnapped by that creature who goes by the name of Ben Affleck, she's pretty much disappeared from screens. If you didn't think she was the best thing in Juno, we are not friends...
Today is the lovely Ms. Garner's birthday and I'd love it if you joined me in wishing her not only 100 more years of loveliness but better roles! How is it that one of the most fascinating actresses out there is now just a mom?

Monday, April 16, 2012

(My) Best of 2011: Actress

5. Keira Knightley in Last Night

It's a true shame that Keira Knightley keeps becoming one of the finest working actresses and people don't seem to be noticing it, taking her for granted as a "has been" among the new crop of British ingenues and that itself might be her problem, Keira has always known how to infuse her characters with ages old wisdom. See her turn as Joanna in Last Night, while the movie itself sometime lingers too dangerously on being some sort of Closer redux, her performance is a complex study of the human heart. Watching her protect her marriage ferociously while being tempted by the idea of restarting an old affair, she is the epitome of a "woman". Knightley's beauty never overshadows her character's deep longings, and she never allows Joanna to descend into soap opera territory, instead she just lets the character speak through her body. Her laugh becomes a bashful flirtatious move, her elegant walk becomes an awkward attempt at shielding herself from what seem like weak moments. It's a pleasure to realize Keira is able to keep surprising us. 

4. Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy

No actress lights up the screen as effortlessly as Juliette Binoche. Whether it's the way in which she lets her characters take over her, the effervescence of her sensual smile, the added bonus that she always chooses interesting projects or just her otherworldly beauty, she always seems to possess a wisdom kept away from us mere mortals. She has that kind of quality in which she can play a "mother" and still be extremely sensual, or she can play a "sexy" woman and retain some innocence. This quality has never been reflected better than in Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, where Binoche plays a charming woman having trouble with the man who might be her husband or a writer she admires (don't ask if you haven't seen it). In order to play a nameless character that could've easily fallen into being nothing but an archetype, Binoche is able to imprint her ethereal qualities on a woman that might as well be nothing but an intellectual essay.
She makes art both tangible and unreachable, always making us wonder what lies between thee fascinating layer we are watching at an established moment.

3. Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia

A wedding is supposed to bring out moments of unbridled joy but what happens when instead it becomes a culmination of a life of sorrows? Such is the case with Justine (Dunst) a woman who we gather has earned everything she wanted and is just waiting for marriage to fulfill her. During the first scenes Dunst shines with the vibrant energy she has displayed onscreen for almost two decades, her cheerleader smile lighting up everyone else, yet as the plot moves forward and Justine becomes more aware of just how unhappy she is about to become, we see a part of the actress that has rarely surfaced. She turns into a fearful, sad creature, overwhelmed by the lack of significance in her life. It should be ironic that she seems rejuvenated by the fact that the world is about to end. Dunst plays Justine like a human being ascending into the realms of sainthood. In a performance with facial expressions as beautiful and touching as Falconetti's in The Passion of Joan of Arc the actress gives one of the most touching portrayals of metaphysical ecstasy to be ever put onscreen. 

2. Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Taking on a role made iconic by an actress the year before, Rooney Mara seemed to have been headed for career suicide as Lisbeth Salander. However what she did was even more impressive: she delivered a performance all her own, that takes nothing from the Swedish movies made before her and seems to dig deep into the essence of the literary source. To say that Stieg Larsson's novel wasn't particularly profound would be paying it a compliment, given that it prefers to stick to plot points rather than exploring the nature of its characters. The magic in Mara's performance is all the more astonishing when you realize that she's playing a heroine that we shouldn't really be rooting for. While the previous incarnation of Lisbeth aimed for the stars, Rooney's goes for something much more earthly, she plays Salander as someone breakable. Mara reveals Lisbeth's weaknesses! Watch that scene in which her disgusting guardian touches her face, the way in which the actress' body seems to shrink like a fearful animal, or later as she takes control of her sexuality, as we watch her literally blossom in front of our eyes. Mara combines Lisbeth's childlike features with an ancient soul that's been hurt too much and now walks the Earth looking for solace, for absolution.
You don't expect to have your heart broken by a character who asks for permission to murder a man and yet that's just what she does, the most ironic of all being that her character would kick her ass for doing so.

1. Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Sean Durkin's directorial debut will forever be remembered for the powerhouse performance turned in by Elizabeth Olsen. Although saying a "powerhouse performance" seems to be referring to something big, loud and imposing, yet what we get instead is a purely introspective character study. Playing one woman with three different personalities, of sorts, Olsen is just breathtaking. The movie begins with her running away from what we later learn is a cult that had kept her captive. To this cult she was known as Marcy May, once hse goes back to her "normal" life, she goes by Martha, and she imprints all of these personae with different qualities; her Martha being a wild child who was always in the lookout for a deeper existence, her Marcy May being an illusion-filled girl whose crush turned into a nightmare and her Marlene being a completely fictitious creation that defines this woman's darkest intentions. Olsen is so enigmatic that the movie ends and we still have no idea if there were Marys, Mercedes, Mildreds, Marges...within her. She evokes the complexities of a Bergman heroine with the rawness of Cassavettes' characters. She is both beautiful and terrifying to watch, a mystery and its answer.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

(My) Best of 2011: Director

5. Andrew Haigh for Weekend

What Andrew Haigh does with his camera in Weekend defies the cinematic idea of intimacy, because we forever wonder: how did he get his actors to become so unaware that they were playing characters and were being filmed? Not even pornographic films, which are supposed to be chronicling moments of complete intimacy, are able to make us feel like we're invited to the party. The way in which he managed to get the equipment and crew inside Russell's (Tom Cullen) little apartment from example at some point or another would've demanded that we became aware of the limitations imposed to movement. However this never happens, all along we're meant to feel not like voyeurs but like guests. Whether Haigh invited us to make us more aware of social causes or merely because he wanted to give us a taste of what falling in love feels like, he is always leading us without us feeling directed. He finds sublimity in the subtle.


4. David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Who would've guessed that David Fincher would craft his most personal movie to date, from an international best-seller which had already been turned into a movie? His take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn't only a procedural thriller, but an open dialogue with a universe he still doesn't get. If god talked through Terrence Malick in The Tree of Life, Fincher talks through god as he wonders about the way in which the human race has turned the notion of civilization into chaos. Why are the Adams of the world so keen on destroying the essence of the Eves? Why is history so important and yet disregarded with such ease at one's convenience? Why can't nature and progress go hand in hand? Fincher shows us a dark, icy world in which humans have become nothing more but pieces of ice, awaiting a thaw that might just never arrive.


3. Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris

Not since Manhattan had Woody Allen delivered such an endlessly pleasurable work of art. You're thinking The Purple Rose of Cairo or Hannah and her Sisters, right? Yet even those dealt more strongly with deeply melancholic currents of thought. In those movies he questioned the universe, in this one he questions and then seems to find enlightenment in the lack of an answer. His previous effort was a movie that came out with harsh, bitter tones, something acceptable but that reflected awfully because for a moment it teased of a career that would go downhill from there. Perhaps Midnight in Paris resulted so successful because it was a surprise. Not everyone can grab life and find hidden gems among its every day misery in the way Woody can.


2. Sean Durkin for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Not since Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace had a feature length debut felt so electrifying and had such subtle "look at me" power. Is it a coincidence that both movies are commanded by strong female characters undergoing extraordinary situations? Perhaps not. The one true thing is that both debuts felt like the work of masters of the art form, only leading us to wonder, how will they ever be able to top this?


1. Lars von Trier for Melancholia

The mad Dane has done it again! After his previous movie which was an undeniable masterpiece, he might've actually gone ahead and delivered the most flawless movie of his already breathtaking oeuvre. His gorgeous Melancholia followed a pattern that was quite common in 2011 films: realizing that the world sucks, that humanity is rotten and that this might all just implode one day, but still they found something beautiful among the decay (see Drive, Midnight in Paris, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Bridesmaids, Shame). What makes Melancholia different from all of these movies is that each and every frame in it shined with the sort of artistry that eludes most filmmakers for as long as they make movies. To see how Lars orchestrates chaos and turns it into a gargantuan opera conformed by sensitive, chilling arias is nothing if not mesmerizing and despite his film's tragic finale, it reassures us that if there is a god, he wouldn't want to destroy a civilization capable of creating such beauty.

Style Sunday.

I'm not sure why are movies being so promoted for so long nowadays but who cares when they give us looks like these two. First up Charlize Theron is absolutely regal in a blue Stella McCartney sheath. The complete simplicity makes her look completely self aware of her beauty and that's one thing nobody can disagree with.

My beloved Pé is effortlessly gorgeous in an Emilio Pucci black dress. Gotta love the fold over her stomach (which cleverly might help hide any of her postpartum insecurities) while highlighting her stunning legs. The simple hair and makeup make it look like she merely threw this on before leaving the house and we all know not all of us can actually pull that off.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Short Take: "Mirror Mirror", "Safe House", "Chronicle".

If ever a movie was victim to terrible, misleading advertising, this would be definitely be it. Tarsem Singh's retelling of the Snow White story is an exuberant, breathtakingly beautiful take on an old tale, that manages to update it without the forced quality of movies like Shrek. What the movie presents us with is a revisionist tale, in which the Evil Queen (a simply delicious Julia Roberts) doesn't hate Snow White (Lily Collins) "just because" but due to her insecurity (both fiscal and personal). Even the Prince (Armie Hammer looking positively dashing) in question arrives for an unconventional reason, as the Queen sees in him the opportunity to save her kingdom from bankruptcy as well as satisfying her sexual needs.
This is probably what the movie gets so well, Snow White and the Queen aren't stereotypes but actual "women" who crave different things and aren't afraid of expressing it. Like an inverse version of Tarsem's The Cell with less creepiness obviously, the film grabs a woman's psyche and expresses it through the lavish set design and costumes. Jennifer Lopez's character in The Cell was trying to hide and escape from the mind of a killer, the women here want their psyches to expand into the real world. What we get then is a battle between women trying to find their places in a world that suggests only one of them is fit to inhabit it. Whether they became enemies because of taxes, beauty or men, the honest truth is that they are all factors uncontrollable by them and demanded by society. Who knew you could gather such a rich post-feminist message from a children's movie?

Safe House is the kind of movie where the main characters spend 80% of the movie as moving targets for gangsters, CIA agents and honest but expendable police men, while barely missing bullets, yet they get shot at the last minute just in time to have an epiphany.
As usual Denzel Washington plays the "mentor" to a less experienced movie star who crosses his character's path. In this case Ryan Reynolds plays the goody-two-shoes' safe house guard who ends up trying to catch a suave criminal he was supposed to look after. We are never asked to really understand the characters' motivations, other than the fact that they are who they are and the action should keep us entertained without thinking. The problem is that Denzel has been playing the same character for more than a decade and this movie feels like it's the continuation of whatever train/plane/evil cop/martyred bodyguard movie he released last year. Reynolds holds no candle to Denzel's charm but he and we deserve much better than this by the numbers thriller.

The been-there-done-that feel of "found footage" films almost seemed to  have been refreshed at the start of Chronicle. Unlike most movies of its type where we spend the whole time wondering why the hell won't they drop the camera when they're being followed by ghosts, Blair witches or monsters, this one actually grabs the concept selfconsciously as characters question why is nerdy, unpopular Andrew (Dane DeHaan) carrying a video camera everywhere. This becomes obvious when we run into the film's major plot twist, after an encounter with a strange crystal he and two other teenagers gain telekinetic powers. The most delightful part of the movie has the young men try out their new powers in ways teenagers would, by pulling pranks on people or using them to hit on girls. For a while the movie feels like an FX-laden version of Jackass until the filmmakers found the need to be moralizing and show us that unrestrained power can bring disaster (something that, thank you very much, no other superhero movie has done as perfectly as Spider-Man). The movie then reveals its true colors and how in its search to be original, it just ended up turning "found footage" into an even more offensive gimmick. By the time we have two crazed teenagers destroying the city of Seattle and still not dropping the freaking camera, all you want is for the Blair with to come and be done with them.

Grades:
Mirror Mirror ***
Safe House *
Chronicle *

(My) Best of 2011: Actor

5. Jean Dujardin in The Artist

In what unarguably became the most talked about male performance of 2011, Jean Dujardin pulled off the rare feat of actually living up to the hype around him. His suave portrayal of movie star George Valentin defied the odds because it exemplified a contradiction: it was a flawless star turn given by someone who wasn't yet a star. The entire movie relied on his magnetic personality to take us into a world movie audiences had refused to be a part of for decades. How he also happened to be moving and affecting is another miracle in a performance that as corny as it sounds, truly had it all.

4. Mel Gibson in The Beaver

It's a shame that Mel Gibson happened to give the greatest performance of his career as his public life became the center of international scrutiny, leading open minded thinkers to wonder if an artist is his art or is he a projection of audiences' wishes? To dwell on that topic for long would only take us away from celebrating Gibson's turn as Walter Black, a performance that reminded us that beyond the handsomeness, Mad Max-ness, crazy ass-ness, movie star-ness and William Wallace-ness was a true actor who could fearlessly explore the confines of the human soul. His turn as a depressed CEO feels so real that sometimes you wish you could look away. As his performance escalates towards levels of raw pain, we come to the realization that depression isn't something to be toyed with, what's even best is that Gibson does this without entering the realm of preachiness, his performance almost so true to itself that some chose to see it as his way of atoning his public sins.

3. Matthias Schoenaerts in Bullhead

You can't take your eyes off Matthias Schoenaerts in
Bullhead and in a movie where violence becomes alive in each and every scene, it's a testament to his performance that you still want to look. His turn as the damaged Jacky Vanmarsenille is fully alive with a literal kind of animal rawness. Watching him turn into a Minotaur-esque being is perplexing and fascinating because the actor embodies the animal without ever letting go of the human. As he feels something uncontrollable take over him, we watch him fightback and try to find any remains of humanity within.

2. Michael Fassbender Shame

One could call Michael Fassbender in Shame: intense, raw, brave and other similar adjectives without the slightest hint of clichéd irony. His performance as the sex-addict Brandon, is an exploration of the human soul that goes deep into the darkest confines it harbors. His performance is certainly physical and in a way evoked Christian Bale's greatest turn yet as the title American Psycho in the way they both become obsessed with material belongings and collecting (sexual partners or victims). If the film was trying to say something about the perils of our shallow times, Fassbender finds something deeper, he goes straight to the heart of addiction to remind us that every now and then there are things we can't explain. He lets his character get ugly and opens up as few actors have ever done onscreen.

1. Tom Cullen in Weekend

There is something so moving about Tom Cullen's smile, that the very thought of it might just break your heart. The way in which he uses this shy smile as Russell in Andrew Haigh's
Weekend might just have made for the most touching performance by any actor in 2011. Playing the more reserved character in a doomed romance, meant that he had to exteriorize a lot by using gestures and non-dialogue techniques. What he does so perfectly is inhabit the life of this lonely young man without turning everything into an "issue". Russell was raised in foster homes but Cullen never victimizes him, Russell is extremely reserved about his sexual orientation but Cullen doesn't turn him into an angry man. Watching him fall for Glen (Chris New) often feels like watching love being created. The way in which Cullen moves onscreen (see how easily he moves in Russell's apartment, everything feels so personal) has such effortless naturalism that when the time comes for us to see his sperm, it feels like he's allowing us into the most private moments in anyone's life. He doesn't seem to know the camera is around, but after watching him he becomes impossible to forget.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Savior Formerly Known as Prince.

Poor Snow White, always dreaming of a better life and never finding a salvation that goes beyond chauvinistic societal limitations. Why am I looking so much into a simple fairy tale you ask? The answer is simple: little boys and girls, grow up on these tales that establish that women will only find solace, happiness and fulfillment once they find a man. Sure, this is all very trite, I agree but beyond the "obvious" story codes, movies have always embedded subtle, shall we call 'em Freudian graphic slips in movies.

For example, why on Earth is Snow White looking for answers in a well? Not only are wells essentially patriarchal symbols of urban development, they also happen to be extremely phallic figures. If you think I'm still being too paranoid, I take you to my favorite shot in the movie:

See, how what once were innocent cute little singing birds seem to take on the shape of jaws about to swallow our heroine. Since the camera is looking up at her it makes us feel that she can only be safe if she enters the well and surrenders whatever little independence she really had (why is the Queen evil if she's only trying to live up to strict rules about how women should look and act?) It doesn't really help that birds have forever represented the male reproductive organ, it's as if the movie is telling girls that other men will harass them, but they have to keep pure until "the one" arrives.

Not so curiously enough, the minute the prince appears the birds fly away, making the scene harmonious once more. Takes someone with balls to save this woman from the perils of the world. That this whole scene is set to one of the catchiest, most iconic songs in the Disney canon speaks for itself. Who cares if the animation is so subversive? Children and most grown ups will never know, after Taylor Swift sings "Romeo save me, I've been feeling so alone. I keep waiting for you but you never come, is this in my head, I don't know what to think". As Carrie Bradshaw would say, "another one bites the dust".

This post is part of Nat's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot".

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Style Sunday.

J. Lo gets it bad a lot, but sometimes she can get it so good! She's completely stunning wearing a simple top with this Lanvin maxi skirt with metallic mesh touches. That she went for simple strappy sandals and let her hair down is remarkable because it makes her look perhaps the best she's looked since the 2010 Oscars.

Every time I see how astonishing Jennifer Hudosn looks all the time, I can't help but wonder why on earth doesn't Beyoncé learn a thing or two from her. She's absolutely regal in this peach Reem Acra strapless gown. The top is detailed with golden appliqués and the lower half reminds me of something Grace Kelly would've favored.

So yeah, I guess Brooklyn Decker is an actress...although I had an argument with myself over what exactly makes someone an "actor". Are you an actor because you're in movies? Do you actually need to know how to act? I'm sure the luscious Ms. Decker never intended me to go into such a profound stream of thought wondering whether she should be in this column or not, but any way she's in Battleship so she gets a free pass for now and how could she not? Just see how flawless this Stella McCartney dress is.

Sigh.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Oliver Stone has been failing to set screens on fire since the early 90s. Was JFK truly his last great movie?
The wishful thinking that Stone is set to deliver something as vibrant as his classic work is what drives me to put all my hopes on Savages. The poster for this movie is a multicolored joy to watch as it presents us with all the A-star cast looking like they just left a Tarantino audition. The use of such vibrant colors makes this look like a dun version of Babel and I'd board that train anytime.
Best of all is the way in which all the actors were captures, del Toro looking like a demon out of hell, Hayek making the most of her mouth-barely-open pose, Travolta exuding his Scientology madness and Lively looking like the slutty ingenue. Without even knowing what the movie is about this one-sheet hooks you and isn't that what posters are supposed to do?

Friday, April 6, 2012

He's a Hunter.

I interviewed Daniel Nettheim, the director of The Hunter for PopMatters. We discussed tigers, children actors, crazy weather conditions and Willem Dafoe. If you're wondering whether the movie's worth your time, it is! I'll review it sometime soon but you should know that Dafoe gives one of his most fantastic performances and that's a big whoa right there, no? Go read it here .

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Bet You Like to Walk in the Rain.

Don't you hate it when you're rooting for your movie heroine to pick the guy she'll obviously never pick? This happens to me mostly in musicals. I always yearn for Eliza to pick the lovely Freddy over the obnoxious Professor Higgins, for Giselle to pick Prince Edward over the dull Robert and for Maria to pick God over the Captain.
By the fifth time you've seen these movies you get used to the plot remaining the same, but few times do I cross my fingers hoping that this will change, as much as I do during Easter Parade. Why on earth can't freaking Hannah (Judy Garland) realize that Johnny (Peter Lawford) is so much better than Don (Fred Astaire)? Not only is he less of a sadistic co-worker, he's also not as much a misogynist as Don. 
Have you realized how women in musicals tend to have a thing for men they would oppose in social feminist dramas?
Don might dance better and sing better, but he does not inject Hannah with the same kind of life Johnny does. This is especially obvious during the scene in which they meet:

The worried young man sees a damsel in distress and literally dances in the rain to protect her.

If the Technicolor in this movie wasn't gorgeous enough, Johnny finds a lemony yellow umbrella (whatever happened to subdued black?).

As they walk under the rain the clever young man is able to figure out who this woman is by asking key questions. Completely taken aback by his insistence, Hannah asks "Yeah but you haven't told me a thing about yourself", which leads to the response which provides my favorite shot in the movie: 

"I'm just a fella, a fella with an umbrella"

I'm sorry but Fred Astaire never gets that smile out of Judy at any other point during the movie. This shot is perfect not only because it highlights that Garland magic we've all learned to worship but also because it shows the way in which studios were in complete control of everything that happened onscreen. The beauty of classic musicals is how they are always able to suspend our disbelief. Nowadays nobody would believe that a man who saves you from getting wet and curiously matches your outfit isn't a stalker. In the movies, it doesn't matter. This crazy array of coincidence makes for something our ancestors knew as "romance".
The way in which the strings swell, Lawford's voice comes out and Judy reacts with such joy makes for a scene that rivals much more famous musical numbers in the canon.

 Of course, Judy ends up revealing she loves someone else later but "Fella with an Umbrella" will be the song you'll find yourself humming for weeks to come.

This is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series, go read the other fabulous entries here!