Sunday, October 31, 2010

While Watching "Life as We Know It"...

...I couldn't help but feel terrible for Katherine Heigl. You know you're watching a bad, bad movie when you spend the entire film wishing it was Heigl who died at the beginning so we could get more of the luscious (and oh so warm in her few scenes here) Christina Hendricks.

Anyone else saw this movie? Did you enjoy it? When will Heigl stop playing the same damn characters? If you were really bad at something, say acting, would you keep trying?

Style Sunday.

I don't know when's the last time I saw Reese on a movie screen and what the hell is she doing in red carpets everywhere, all I do know is va-va-voom!
Has she ever looked this sexy? Sure, the fantastically layered Jason Wu dress she's wearing might add something to her (belts and ruffles together!) but she looks incredibly fresh.
Whatever she's been doing she should keep it up!

Kylie Minogue is a vision of purity and elegance in this simple David Koma dress. If the Azzaro inspired top and ample skirt suggest Kylie's a good girl, all we have to do is take a peek at her fabulous leopard print shoes to know she means business.

What do you think? Don't you miss good Reese movies? Isn't Kylie looking younger than ever?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Machete **

Director: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba
Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan
Shea Wigham, Don Johnson, Robert de Niro

For a movie that has Jessica Alba playing a U.S. Immigration officer, Cheech Marin as a gun toting priest and Danny Trejo as a sex symbol, Machete sure is less fun than it promises.
Adapted from the faux trailer that came with 2007's Grindhouse, the film expands the basic premise of "man seeking revenge" and turns it into a full on blood and guts extravaganza with a message.
The film follows Machete (Trejo), a Mexican Federal betrayed by the force and hunted by the evil druglord Torrez (Seagal) who also killed his family.
Years later, while working illegally in the States, he's approached by a mysterious man (Fahey) who blackmails him to have him kill anti-immigration US Senator John McLaughlin (De Niro). He's betrayed once again and realizes that getting payback might get him closer to avenging his family.
If the basic plot is essentially the exploitative premise from the trailer, the film itself is a convoluted mess of cinematic references, more subplots than it can handle and a distasteful social message.
It doesn't take much to realize that the whole idea of this Machete is to make a comment on the preposterous position some American government officials have taken towards immigration.
The film grabs these, mostly Republican, beings and turns them into monsters like Sen. McLaughlin who enjoys shooting "wetbacks", taping it and then getting donations from people who get a kick out of watching this.
Yet for every monster cliché he can get, Rodríguez also delivers a heroic counterpart. Therefore we have She (pronounced Che and played by Rodríguez) a humble young woman who runs a taco stand by day and leads a resistance movement by night.
The idea of her counterrevolutionary methods isn't as out of place as the fact that she is shaped after one of the most controversial figures in history. Throughout the whole movie the director can't help but wink at us letting us know almost everything is referencing something else.
Hence we have Lohan playing a drug addict gone good, Johnson as the kind of corrupt creature he would've been fighting against in Miami Vice and Alba as a police officer who's both capable of beating the crap out of a gang but also has time to strike sexy poses while she showers.
If the idea behind Machete was to pay homage to the B movies that shaped it, Rodríguez seems to have forgotten that these movies were usually happy accidents and never strategically manufactured products.
These movies became legendary because they eventually came to represent something for people; whether it was female liberation, anti war movements or just plain old fashioned anti-establishment agendas, these movies originally were made just for fun.
Yet everything here is winking at something, recurring to cheap stunt casting or trying to preach about immigration.
It's here when the movie gets confusing, because when you try to deliver an important message about society it's risky to say the only people who can get it solved are murderous, vengeance-seeking outlaws. This could result hilarious to people in on the joke but might easily shock those who oppose the ideas the movie's against.
Rodríguez can't have his social message cake and eat it too!
This is why Machete often feels dull as a butter knife even when it pretends to be completely sharp.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"It's a hard world for little things."

The Night of the Hunter is above all a movie about storytelling.
From its opening scene in which we see Lillian Gish narrating a passage from a lullaby as a group of cherub-like children materialize from the stars, we get the overall idea of what the movie will be like.
What few people tell you is that unlike movies where children bedtime stories are filled with princesses, unicorns and happy endings, the one we're told here is marked by murder, tragedy and fear.
Completely Grimm-like (and outstandingly grim) the film follows the twisted Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) as he sets on destroying two orphans (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) whose mother he murdered (was any actress killed by her husband more than Shelley Winters during the 50's?)
The film which was directed by Charles Laughton (he never directed again!) has a pervading mood of melancholy only overshadowed by its perversity.
It's not as if Laughton likes to make his characters suffer he just seems to have too much respect for them to give them an easy way out.
It's also interesting to note that Laughton never had any children of his own, which might explain why he never seems interested in being too reverential and sugarcoating life for the kids who ended up watching this movie.

"John, would you tell me a story?" asks little Pearl (Bruce) to big brother John (Chapin)

The film was shot by DP Stanley Cortez using techniques that give the entire film the quality of a Gustav Doré engraving by way of Dr. Mabuse.
In this way he and Laughton are able to come up with iconic shots that seem to be extracted from either a storybook or a nightmare (the scene where Powell rides under the moonlight as the kids watch him from a barn still gives me goosebumps).
And my favorite shot in the film encompasses this very idea.

Lillian Gish's Ms. Cooper keeps vigil as Powell lures outside her home waiting to attack and take the kids with him.
I love how the lightning reminds you of something nostalgic like Whistler's Mother but then you realize this lady has a huge rifle with her.

I'll be cheating because I didn't go for a single shot, given that I see this series of shots as a single one united by Gish's pose and defined by the way in which they manipulate light.
As Gish waits in the dark one of the kids comes up to her with a candle, perhaps to reveal that the light banishes evil (giving the entire scene yet another rich layer of how Laughton deals with spirituality and faith)

Ms. Cooper tells her to turn the thing off, completely sure that the darkness can only remain such surrounded by darkness, and when she does we realize Powell is gone.
You could say that in this moment Laughton materializes all of our childhood fears and takes them to the level of adulthood where we realize that perhaps fairy tales do not come true.

This post is part of the lovely Nat's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.

15 Directors.

Mr. Paolo from Brown Okinawa Assault Incident decided to tag me in a meme and seems to have forgotten to tell me about it...
Most of you know I suck at memes because I never know what to say but this one is particularly interesting because lately I've been asked a lot who my favorite filmmakers are. I was going to eventually compile a list and Mr. Paolo just made my job easier by making me do one ASAP.
So without further ado, here are my fifteen favorite directors and my fave movie of theirs.

The Holy Trinity
Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire)
Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows)
Federico Fellini (La Strada)

The Rest of the Best
Alfred Hitchcock (Notorious)
Pier Paolo Pasolini (Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom)
Pedro Almodóvar (Volver)
Woody Allen (Annie Hall)
Lars von Trier (Dogville)
Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon)
Catherine Breillat (Brief Crossing)
Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven)
Victor Fleming (Gone With the Wind)
Jane Campion (The Piano)
Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!)
Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis)

Are these who you expected? Any omission you think I made? Who are your fave fifteen?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Wicked Witch of the North (Shore).

"I'm a pain in your rectum
I'm that bitch y'all slept on
Heavy hitter, rhyme splitter, call me Re-Run
Hey, hey, hey, I'm what's happenin'"
- Missy Elliot

Few films capture the horrors of being a teenager in the way Mean Girls does. This first-class satire directed by Mark Waters and written by, Academy Award nomination-robbed, Tina Fey (adapted from a book by Rosalind Wiseman) is a hilarious (in a laugh to keep from crying sort of way) that deals with the lives of a group of teenagers and their interaction with "the plastics": the popular girls everyone hates and loves.
The Queen of them all is Regina George (Rachel McAdams) a girl so hateful that when we first meet here we learn that "evil takes a human form in Regina George."
This gives path to my favorite shot in the film.
Highlighted by Missy Elliot's addictive "Pass That Dutch" we see a blond queen being carried by her faithful slaves.

All of them seem to be honored that they get to be used as Regina's means of transportation. Like a perverse Cleopatra she relishes this moment and makes her subjects know she knows how much they love her for being her slaves.
She smiles at them filled with satisfaction (never disbelief) and we understand that her every wish is fulfilled by them.
However her glow comes with a warning, "don't be fooled cause she may seem like your typical, selfish , backstabbing slut-faced ho bag but in reality she's so much more than that."
And she is, as the plot moves forward Regina makes it clear that her reign will be over when she wants it to be over.
Later in the film we get a bookend to this first glimpse of Regina's glory. After wreaking havoc in her high school and in the process destroying her kingdom she watches the scene with the same sly smile we saw before on her face.

As people around her insult and hit each other she just stands there completely untouchable. It might be because the others are so concerned that they haven't even noticed she's there but we know that to Regina this actually means her subjects are still so terrified and respectful that they would never approach her like they would an ordinary being.
The camera in this shot pulls back and we see that Regina stands above some stairs like a wicked Madonna from a Renaissance tableaux.
Regina's always on top, even when she's not.

This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series, hosted by the very fetch Nathaniel of The Film Experience.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eat Pray Love ***

Director: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Julia Roberts
Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis
Billy Crudup, Hadi Subiyanto, Tuva Novotny, Mike O'Malley
Luca Argentero, Rushita Singh, David Lyons

How do you sell a movie about a woman who leaves her husband to find herself, while traveling to some of the most exotic locales on the planet? You get Julia Roberts to play her.
It makes no difference that Eat Pray Love is based on the autobiographical novel written by Elizabeth Gilbert, the truth is that perhaps there would've been no way to bring this movie to the screen without making it feel like a "whine fest" if it wasn't because Roberts turns it into a Julia Roberts movie.
Not to pay any disservice to Gilbert, since apparently those who love her book think it gets to be spiritual and transcendental, but the thing is that watching Julia on a movie screen immediately takes you to a place where movie stars still are gods of sorts and mortals can still drool over them.
This helps the movie because it helps make Gilbert approachable, given that we rarely think of her as an actual "normal" person, she's pretty much Julia Roberts' version of Gilbert.
This makes it easy to like Julia because it wouldn't really be easy to like Liz.
When the film begins she decides to leave her husband (Crudup) after figuring out she doesn't love him. She begins an affair with a young actor (Franco) who she doesn't love either and then decides it's time to travel the world and find her balance.
She begins her journey in Italy where she eats, then goes to India where she prays and culminates it in Bali where she loves (Bardem plays Felipe her Brazilian love interest).
Director Murphy (who also wrote the screenplay with Alice Salt) seems to have no real intention to make anything in the movie subtle.
Besides the obvious explanation of the title, he spends trying to digest everything for the audience. Along with director of photography Robert Richardson he tries to make everything seem like what we'd expect it to be.
Therefore the entire movie is bathed in a golden light that makes everything seem nice but doesn't really allow elements to breathe. Richardson who is an extraordinary DP, here seems restricted by the homogeneous look Murphy tries to impose on everything.
The same can be said about the editing, which more often than not seems overcompensating. The scenes where Liz eats are usually cut with such quickness that they make her bites seem car commercials, it's as if Murphy is too worried we would get too envious about the foods and chose not to show them too much and there's a particularly obnoxious scene where a woman's fashion success is celebrated by an entire crowd of football fans.
It's fortunate then that while Murphy digests for us, Julia gets to do the actual savoring. Her performance might not be a reinvention of modern acting but the actress shows glimpses of a maturity that she has experimented with very few times in her career.
Not only does she look more radiant and beautiful than ever but she also manages to infuse Liz with a certain sense of earthiness despite the whole "she's Julia" issue.
Even when the movie succumbs to cliché Julia takes it to a completely different place. For example it doesn't take long to assume Gilbert was a fan of Sex and the City given the way she narrates and tries too hard to deliver Carrie Bradshaw-isms, but Roberts takes these comments with a pinch of salt and instead of turning them into puns or teabag advice she confronts them and even make us wonder if Gilbert wasn't actually consciously creating a marketable product while trying to be spiritual (think Paulo Coelho minus the ominous hocus pocus).
After all this is a woman who literally had to begin from zero after an ugly divorce. It would make sense, and give her some humanity, to think that she was finding ways to make money after her trip was over.
Eat Pray Love rarely gives us a glimpse of the Julia Roberts laughter, you know that big, loud roar that's impossible to ignore, instead we get more of her soulful smile this time around.
Perhaps the screenplay doesn't really try hard to see what's behind Liz, her motivations rarely move past the "find myself" stereotype but Julia detected this and tries to explore it without acquiring methodical tics.
Instead of approaching Liz like a vessel waiting to be invaded, Roberts gets near her and tries to empathize, which is why it's evident that nobody else would've been able to play this woman and not make her seem selfish and to an extent an anti-heroine.
Because for all its soul searching and mumbo jumbo, Eat Pray Love is still very much about an American woman using the world to expiate her sins but without the selfawareness to make it a satire.
Because it has Roberts though it gains a heart, one that is broken on several occassions (mostly by herself) and because of this we leave the movie, not feeling patronized or offended but actually questioning what we just saw.
If people like Gilbert get to travel the world and still come up empty handed, what hope is there for the people who only get to travel from movie to movie looking for answers to their existential questions.
Murphy doesn't seem to know that his glossy travelogue might seem shallow but Julia does and with a comforting smile lets us know that however deep we sink in our own tragedies, almost everyone knows that a spoonful of gelato makes the world seem perfect even for at least a second.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Love You, Phillip Morris *½

Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor
Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Brennan Brown
Trey Burvant, Antoni Corone

It shouldn't be a surprise that movies about gay lead characters are still pretty much dealt with as strange novelties. It should be refreshing however to find a film with recognizable movie stars taking on these characters. This film does both, yet the only truly risque thing about I Love You, Phillip Morris is how often it pushes its condescension towards outrageous bad taste.
Based on the real life story of gay con man Steven Jay Russell (Carrey), it attempts to be Catch Me If You Can by way of a parody of Monster.
The film begins with an unarguably exciting sense of wonder as we meet Steven and his wife Debbie (a sadly underused Mann) a seemingly traditional couple with a secret: he's gay (the revelation by the way is hilarious and has a sense of comedic timing the film never recaptures).
After a life changing accident Steven decides it's time to come out, so he leaves his family, packs his bags and moves to Florida with a man (Santoro).
Seduced by the promise of a new exciting life he soon realizes that "being gay is expensive" leading him to start a life of crime.
He ends up going to jail for fraud and there meets Phillip Morris (McGregor) an angelic looking Southern boy he falls hard for. They begin a relationship and for the rest of the film we see as they try to maintain their love alive, in and out of jail, as Steven copes with his criminal past.
The entire film is plagued with so many tonal discrepancies that for a second or two you might wonder if this indecision by part of the directors to determine what kind of movie they were making is some sort of commentary on sexual unawareness (is this a bicurious movie?).
But of course it's not, it's actually a patronizing, conflicting work that deals with its themes in a completely lost manner.
For starters we begin to wonder why they try so hard to make this into a comedy when the truth is that Russell's life is actually a series of tragedies anchored by what can only be called mentally disturbed behavior.
He's more Tom Ripley than Frank Abagnale Jr. but the directors seem to overlook this because they seem scared of dealing with the darkness in a homosexual character.
Therefore they turn the entire plot into a condescending gag that reveals to us we can only empathize with this man by making fun of his misery.
Carrey, who under able hands can be a brilliant actor, is back to his wacky days here, turning Steven into Liar, Liar with a lisp: a character so devoid of any depth that you can't even muster the energy to dislike him.
All that Carrey does with his performance is turn hissy fits into sissy fits robbing the character (and presumably the real man) from any opportunity to be something more than caricature.
McGregor on the other hand turns in a beautiful, sensitive performance that goes beyond cliché even if the mvoie tries to turn Phillip into a full on Southern belle trapped inside a man.
That he's able to pull off a line like "enough romance, let's fuck" with just enough honesty to make us see the way angst and hormones battle within him as well as making us laugh out hard, makes for a really surprising element and perhaps the one thing that makes this film worthy.
It's a shame that the movie can not commit to being either a fun genre flick or a complex character study because when it's over we just wonder if the title is even right, given that Steven comes off looking as someone who only loves himself and even saying that feels like a lie.

You've Got Mail.

"A Mr. Brett Favre stopped by and dropped off this picture of a hot dog."


Y'all know I LOVE 30 Rock. After just watching the West coast version of their brilliant live ep, all I've got to say is: best comedy show of the decade.
Did you guys see the live ep? Which version did you prefer?

Crush of the Week.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Style Sunday.

I swear it's not my intention to have Carey Mulligan in every edition of this series but the girl sure can dress. She's the epitome of effortlessness cool in this Vionett tunic with a risky pattern that might've made other women look like a hippie art teacher from New Mexico.
The hair and makeup are flawless.

Keira Knightley is a complete vision in this simple Chanel dress. At first glance nothing seems entirely interesting about this look and some might say the creamy color washes Keira's pale complexion but look closer and you will notice hundreds of little pears holding the whole thing together.
For those who think pearls work better until you're an older lady this look kicks that conception right in the butt. The heavy black shoes to anchor the entire look are a stroke of genius!

What do you guys think about these two?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Piranha 3D ***

Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Steven R. McQueen
Ving Rhames, Jerry O'Connell, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook
Riley Steele, Christopher Lloyd, Cody Longo, Richard Dreyfuss

If you liked Jaws but think it would've been better if it had been directed by Paul Verhoeven, then Piranha 3D will blow your mind.
A hilarious, boob-filled, bloody, monster extravaganza that truly does justice to its B-movieness and above all seems to be worth your money (if you know what you're paying for).
Set in Lake Victoria, Arizona, it kicks off with an inspired spoof that has Richard Dreyfuss fishing while drinking some beer.
As he struggles reeling in a big fish, he drops his bottle which we follow to the bottom of the lake. Just as it hits the floor, an earthquake hits (or is the beer bottle causing the quake?) which opens an underwater cave from which a school of prehistoric piranhas emerge.
They rip Dreyfuss to pieces, doing justice to all the water creatures he has destroyed in the past. Then they move forward trying to find their next victim, lucky for them it's also spring break and hundreds of horny youngsters have come to the lake.
Piranha 3D is pretty straightforward from the beginning and seems to proclaim that there is absolutely no cliché it will not recur to, no gratuitous boob shot it will let pass and absolutely no degree of political correctness it will respect.
But as the piranhas have a feast of silicone and six packs, there's also a main story we're meant to follow, that of Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue) and her kids Jake (McQueen, as in Steven's grandson), Laura (Brooklynn Proulx) and Zane (Sage Ryan) who get involved in the disaster for quite silly reasons.
Needless to say that revealing more about the plot wouldn't exactly interfere with your enjoyment, it's perhaps best to let the film speak for itself and when you have a fantastically crass Jerry O'Connell as a Joe Francis-like amateur porn producer, you can be assured the film will do lots of, quite dirty, talking.
The cast itself is something the movie should be proud of; Shue is phenomenal and grounded, Rhames is his usual big self and Lloyd is all sorts of insane as a wise ichthyologist.
What the movie does best however, is give its audience exactly what it wants. Just when you think the filmmakers won't push any more buttons, they go ahead and cut a woman in half while paying homage to Titanic and Eli Roth.
In fact it might not even need 3D to work, given that other than for a scene or two there's not much use for the technology (there's a creepy underwater tour that's probably a bit too dark for it to work to perfection). Unless that is, you have made it a purpose to watch tri-dimensional vomit and wet breasts that almost poke your eyes out.
And if you've not had enough nudity and boobs, there's an underwater ballet set to Léo Delibes' "Flower Duet" from Lakmé that will haunt, and probably wet, your dreams.
Unlike recent movies that try hard to win B-movie and exploitation cred, Piranha 3D earns it through the use of cinematic traditions that have remained effective for decades.
As it seems to condemn sex and drinking, it's also using them to boost its own success and does this without even trying to make some sort of political comment or say anything witty about society, it's not that the film is dumb, it's just that it know that besides being bliss, ignorance can also be lots of fun.


La Dolce Vita marked the midpoint at which Federico Fellini transitioned from neo-realism to more oneiric, almost surrealistic work. The film is populated by strange characters living even stranger situations and was condemned by the Vatican for its immorality.
But what has always remained in my mind about this movie was that it showed me what the power of moving images was all about.
Let me explain; as a child I became enthralled by Fellini in a way I couldn't completely understand. Given that finding his movies wasn't entirely easy for me, I devoured his work in any way I could.
One of these ways was by reading books about him. It was on one of his biographies where I first encountered La Dolce Vita.
In a nutshell the book told the entire movie. When I finally got the chance to watch it I was expecting the structure I had read about to play out in an automatic way.
I was shocked to see that the more I had read about the movie, the less I knew what I was getting into.

Anita Ekberg's Sylvia is "dangerous stuff but very beautiful".

Marcello (Mastroianni) stares in disbelief at this exotic she-wolf.

Very few movies are as flawless as La Dolce Vita, in how every single element is necessary. Which is why you really won't know what makes it so special until you watch it. Despite all the homages, parodies and countless references to it, the film remains an exciting, refreshing experience each and every time.
Which is why when choosing my favorite shot-and trying to be all cool and obscure-I was slightly pissed at myself for succumbing to one of the most famous sequences in film history...

In it we see as famous actress Sylvia (Ekberg) becomes finally liberated as she leaves a stuffy party (and her obnoxious fiancé) and ventures into the night with journalist Marcello (Mastroianni).
He seems baffled by her every move and just hovers around her as she barks, coos and eventually finds a tiny white kitten.
She urges Marcello to find milk for her new friend and despite the hour he decides his mission is to oblige her.
He leaves to find the milk as Sylvia wanders the streets of Rome.

This sequence has a dreamlike quality that might remind you of Jean Cocteau's work (it helps that Nino Rota's score is so magnificent).

After trying to find her way in the urban labyrinth Sylvia finds something that makes her say "oh my goodness".
It's as if she was a goddess being called back to Olympus.

When Marcello arrives with the milk he finds Sylvia has decided to take a bath in the Fontana de Trevi as the kitten waits outside.
"Marcello come here!" she demands and who is he to say no?

Do you remember that this is the exact same scene we watch in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation?
While Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) lie in bed having champagne in Japanese wooden cups, they too are enthralled by Ekberg's larger than life presence.
But there's a reason why Coppola used this precise moment and it's also the reason why I love the following shot so much, like Marcello and Sylvia, Lost in Translation is all about a stolen moment, taking a glimpse of a life you know you will never get to have, it's no coincidence that in both movies we are moved by characters we should envy or simply despise.

Marcello finally approaches Sylvia but finds that he can't even bring himself to touch her.
This is my favorite shot in the film because it encompasses all the themes Fellini discussed, in a simple, miraculously layered way.
It's essentially a moment that talks about separation.
Be it Marcello's and Sylvia's social differences, which are real despite what Roman Holiday had to say seven years before this film was released.
There's also the fact that Marcello can not cheat on his girlfriend anymore and how he should try and remain professional.
But beyond the obvious connotations Fellini is also showing us how afraid Marcello has become of real life, of finding happiness.
This is a theme that pervades throughout the entire film and the director never judges his characters but we constantly see them come close to reaching what they want only to be overwhelmed and surrendering once again to the sweet life.
In fact, this very shot, leads us to wonder, what is the dolce vita Fellini is referring to? Is it the idea of happiness surrounded by excess or is it the actual life that these characters never reach?
Is la dolce vita the idea of Sylvia or Sylvia herself?

I love that Marcello uses his hands in the same way he uses them throughout the movie, he's always making gestures and using his hands to express himself.
And something about Mastroianni's expression makes this innocuous moves funny and heartbreaking.
It's as if life is always slipping through his fingers.

This post is part of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, hosted by the dolce Nathaniel of The Film Experience.


"If only there was a device of some kind to keep the time..."
- Blair (Meester) after Serena (Lively) tells her she's always late for school.

I've said it a million times before but I'll say it again: this woman is doing some of the best comedic work in TV.

The Girl Who Went to the Tattoo Parlor.

The first images of David Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have hit the web and I'm already getting worried.
The picture above for example in which we see Lisbeth Salander inside what appears to be a tattoo parlor is already going against one of the things I loved the most about the Swedish film trilogy (and you know I loved it!).
I won't go into details but let's say it's already proving that Hollywood seriously think audiences have to have everything digested beforehand...

On a different note Mara does seem slightly interesting in costume and makeup.
Although I believe Noomi Rapace gave the best female performance I've seen so far in 2010, I'm starting to get quite curious about where Mara will take it.
I'll start reading the first book soon and rewatch the trilogy before the year is over. I guess this won't be the last time you hear about Lisbeth here...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Expendables **

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture
Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke
Steve Austin, David Zayas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis

It's a who's who of the most famous action stars of the past three decades in The Expendables, a movie so peculiar that you know no coherent plot is necessary to make it work.
Sly plays Barney Ross, the leader of a mercenary team that includes the characters played by Li, Statham, Lundgren and Crews. No character description could make justice to the stereotypes each of them are playing but this is supposed to be part of the fun.
The Expendables, as they name themselves, are hired by a mysterious man (Willis) to overthrow the dictator (Zavas) of the fictitious island of Vilena. Without even knowing who they're actually working for, but with the promise of fresh victims to decapitate, mutilate and several other CGI verbs, the team takes on the mission.
From the moment of its conception it was obvious that this movie wasn't meant for everyone, after all even its title makes a mockery out of the entire thing to declare this isn't the kind of movie that will rack up awards or change the face of acting (although Rourke does display some serious acting that somehow feels funny in the context, after all his character is named Tool...)
However what might disappoint some is the fact that for all the trivia, references and plain tackiness that surrounds it, the movie isn't really that much fun.
The dialogues, as terrible as they are, could've been at least quotable. The action sequences, as demented and gratuitous as they are, could've at least tried to allow us to see what was going on (especially when they had acrobats like Statham and Li at their service).
The film takes itself so seriously that it forgets that we are living in an era where postmodernist riffs on B-movies are sometimes considered works of genius (see everything Quentin Tarantino touches) and instead of trying to deliver this, The Expendables settles for being another bad movie like the ones these actors are used to making.
Think of it as an Ocean's Eleven with more face lifts, steroids and no real sense of humor (except for Statham who single handedly uplifts every scene he's in). There's a scene in a church that should've been iconic but results awkward and feels strangely forced.
When it comes down to basics The Expendables isn't bad enough to be good, clever enough to be subversive or even bad enough to be plain bad, in the end it's just what it is.

Monday, October 11, 2010

While Watching "Wall Street"...

I noticed that Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) shares a birthday with my brother.
Not sure if I see the Taurus in Gekko or the Gekko in my brother though...

Anyway, happy future birthday to my brother and how about you guys, share your birthday with someone famous? (Real or fictitious counts)

Nowhere Boy **½

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Thomas Brodie Sangster
Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, David Morrissey, Sam Bell

Every biopic begins with one question: will people, who have no interest in the famous character, want to see this? In the case of Nowhere Boy, assuming there are people out there who have no idea who John Lennon was, what will draw them to a film about his teenage years?
Why make a movie about someone before they were famous instead of concentrating on the dirt and juiciness that fame brought them?
This film concentrates on Lennon's (Johnson) relationship with two women: his estranged mother Julia (Duff) and his strict Aunt Mimi (Thomas). Most of the film has the rebellious John trying to understand why his mom abandoned him and then succumbing to her charm as he begins to resent Mimi's parenting skills.
We might not come to understand much about Lennon by examining this strange love triangle but we are rewarded with a strong, if sometimes too facile, melodrama in which the actors get to shine.
Johnson is a delight as the wide eyed John. We can assume that he's playing Lennon as a combination of Elvis, James Dean and the actual John Lennon which is why his performance is full of mannerisms that somehow feel authentic (he's a performer building his future image). Even when the film takes him towards typical genre twists, he does his best to keep John completely unaware of who he'll become.
This is what gives the movie its best quality. Out of the things it gets wrong, it gets something quite right and it's the way in which it approaches the biopic and filters it through the use of the domestic drama genre.
Therefore what we see is not a movie specifically about how Lennon became one of the most iconic figures in music history but an intriguing family portrait.
Duff is full of energy as Julia and she gives her character a strange eroticism that sometimes makes her seem incestuous. The way she devours John when she's with him gives us glimpses of guilt and some serious Oedipal issues that the director doesn't commit to exploring thoroughly.
Then there's the astonishing Kristin Scott Thomas who practically owns the film as Aunt Mimi. Those who are extremely familiar with the Lennon back story know that it was Mimi who raised him and became his only parent.
It's a delight to see what Thomas does with the role; she can go from cold and slightly sadistic to incredibly warm with a few gestures and gives Mimi a depth no other actor achieves in the movie.
Nowhere Boy suffers mostly from its episodic nature and the way in which its whole sense of lacking selfawareness makes it feel wandering and aimless from time to time.
Fans of The Beatles and John Lennon will enjoy the inner references (watching John draw a walrus puts a smile on your face instantly) but those with less affection towards the music icons will probably be confused by the film's inconsistencies.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Style Sunday.

I love when my favorite actresses come out with superb looks and this week I have two of 'em.
First is the lovely Jennifer Garner in a floral print Zac Posen with black shoes and leggings.
This is how you do simple elegance!

Next is the iconic Sarah Jessica Parker in Halston Heritage. This dress reminds me of something Carrie Bradshaw wore once but at the same time it takes me to somewhere back in time. What Ms. Parker is doing working with the label really is a rescue of pure American fashion.
I can't see where she takes the house next.

What do you think of these two gorgeous ladies?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Six Year Itch.

By now everyone has probably seen the first look of Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe for My Week With Marilyn.
It's obvious by now that Williams wants Oscar. If the movie is released next year she'll most surely be nominated in 2012, making it the sixth anniversary of her first nomination for Brokeback Mountain.
Unlike half the world I am not yet convinced by Ms. Williams talents and for the moment am quite skeptical about her performance in this film. She just lacks the Monroe spark! I see that picture for example and think more of an art installation about "the shallowness of Hollywood" than a "yowza".
And that's what Marilyn always makes me feel. Williams aced the look but she seems to be more appropriate for a Dolce & Gabbana ad than a movie.
Speaking of D&G was Scarlett Johansson to busy baking for Ryan Reynolds that she missed out on this movie? Now that would've gotten me gasping for air almost immediately.
You know what made me real curious though, Kenneth Branagh and Julia Ormond as Larry and Vivien! Catherine Zeta-Jones had been cast to play her originally and as much as I dislike Mrs. Douglas sometimes she would've been perfect for this, more about that story here.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Slumdog Millionaire pretty much killed my excitement about anything related to Danny Boyle, at least for a while. See how smug they make him sound with the whole "Academy Award winning" thing when for this movie I would've loved to have him mentioned as "the director of Trainspotting and Sunshine".
The movie itself makes me lazy but this poster is superb. The colors are terrific and the hourglass figure is so subtly paired with the tagline that you might miss it at first.

I have no idea what this movie will be about and I probably won't have any interest in watching it once I do.
But aren't these two just beautiful?

Excited for any of these? Do you too feel Oscar killed Danny Boyle's cool factor?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Traceless **½

Director: Grégoire Vigneron
Cast: Benoît Magimel, François-Xavier Demaison
Julie Gayet, Léa Seydoux, Jean-Marie Winling
Dominique Labourier, André Wilms, Stéphane De Groodt

On the eve of a big promotion successful businessman Étienne Meunier (Magimel) runs into childhood friend Patrick Chambon (Demaison). They have coffee and later meet for drinks while discussing the past and their plans for the future.
Étienne lets out a sceret he's never told anyone. Things go downhill from there.
Without revealing too much about the plot, it's almost common cinematic sense that people do not run into people they haven't seen in years just because. Things never go well afterward!
We see as Étienne's life begins to unravel as blackmail, murder and strange dreams begin to take over his existence.
Most of the film relies on its ability to combine thriller qualities with character development but truth be told the entire thing comes out more as pastiche than genre flick.
For one the characters never seem to be entirely truthful. They're like Hitchcockian creations trapped in a selfconscious Lynchian experiment.
Étienne for example seems to know that everything he's doing will turn out for the worst but keeps on doing things that go beyond reason (Magimel does a terrific job playing an asshole we can still root for despite our best knowledge).
Patrick on the other side comes off looking as someone despicable and annoying, in a way the director tries to study our reaction towards class systems as we come to dislike this man perhaps because unlike Étienne he never moved forward in life.
He's become a parasite of sorts who then tries to drag the successful Étienne down with him. Demaison's performance has shades of the creepy work Matt Damon provided in The Talented Mr. Ripley (in a key scene we even listen to Vivaldi's Stabat Mater which was used to great effect in Ripley). Yet we are forced to wonder what exactly defines success in these terms if not the American dream?
This notion becomes even more twisted when Étienne becomes paranoid about an American taking over his company and his job (the end of this subplot is hilarious).
Now and then Vigneron comes up with little quirks that make this movie shine but more often than not he lets the absurd conventions of it all push it towards the utterly preposterous.
Traceless might not always know what it's doing but when it does it well it makes us believe it might reach Crimes and Misdemeanors proportions.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

High and Dry.

I have to confess that before writing this post I had never been able to make it through an entire viewing of Requiem for a Dream, not because I found it too bleak or gruesome or whatever (Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke are two of my favorite filmmakers...) but because I always felt it was entirely over hyped and to be honest not that good a movie.
Things haven't really changed in the nine years that have gone by after my first attempt to watch it, so don't think this will include a change of heart.
In fact I never got what the buzz about Darren Aronofsky was all about until I saw The Wrestler...but that's another story.

Given that I had to choose my favorite shot of the movie this time I had to look at it with a more critical eye and in doing so I realized that the thing that has always bothered me about this movie was how obvious everything is.
It's nothing but a morbid look at drugs disguised as a cautionary tale, Aronofsky's direction in fact is almost reactionary in the way he condemns and judges all his characters.
This was never more obvious to me than in the film's opening scene where we see Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) lock herself in a closet when her son Harry (Jared Leto) arrives at her house.
At first we have no idea what's going on and assume he will beat her up.

She looks through the keyhole terrified as Harry bangs and throws a tantrum. Then we see what he's after; he's trying to pawn his mother's precious television set once again.
He's done it so many times before that she has chained it to the heater.
In this precise shot where through split screen we see the terrified woman looking at her son's behavior and his attempt to steal the chained TV, we have the essence of the entire movie.
Notice how beyond Sara and Harry there's someone else in the shot: the person looking at Sara.
In this case the camera serves as Aronofsky's eye as he lets us know that the movie to follow will be his look at how people who succumb to drugs are chained to addiction.
The use of the word "chained" is by no means a pun, given that Aronofsky's visual language, and well, the chain tied to the TV, make it clear what he's referring to.
Throughout the whole Requiem for a Dream we are reminded by the director of how monstrous this people can be, he wears his sensibility on his camera and the movie suffers greatly because of it.

A following sequence of shots proves Aronofsky's judgment (or perhaps a slight attempt at some sense of humor) when we see Sara give Harry the keys to the TV lock.
She carries it in a chain (another one...) around her neck and when she gives it to Harry, for a minute we have the impression she's handing something sacred.
It's no coincidence that for a second the shiny balls of the chain remind us of rosary beads.

After all, addiction, is their religion.

This post is part of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, hosted by the fabulous and quite addictive, Nat of The Film Experience.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps *1/2

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan
Eli Wallach, Frank Langella, John Buffalo Mailer, Susan Sarandon

Regardless of how many times you may have seen Splendor in the Grass, the moment when Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) learns about the Great Depression never fails to turn your heart upside down.
Such a moment was supposed to occur in the fractured Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, as it deals with recent economic disasters that have affected the world in unexpected ways. We expect it to come when we see Gordon Gekko (Douglas) being released from prison in late 2001 and we expect it to occur again when the movie jumps forward in time to the chaotic 2008.
However nothing really happens and we are left wondering exactly what was the point in making this film.
On the surface it's basically a remake of Wall Street. Gordon Gekko's time in jail nothing but a MacGuffin so that he can regain the prominence he had during his 80's peak.
He writes a book called Is Greed Good? and the masses flock to him like a messiah. Among the crowds is idealistic Jacob Moore (LaBeouf) a wide-eyed proprietary trader who admires Gekko and wishes to be like him. Essentially LaBeouf is playing Charlie Sheen.
Of course, this being the aughts and all, besides being one greedy little bastard he also has a thing for the environment and for his girlfriend Winnie (Mulligan), Gekko's estranged daughter who has gone all Elektra on him by becoming a leftist, money-hating, journalist.
To say that nothing much happens in this sequel would be an understatement given how most of the film consists of scenes where the young Jake and the old sharks (which besides Douglas include Brolin, Langella and a scene stealing Eli Wallach) discuss vengeance, power and money like characters straight out of Clash of the Titans.
Other than the awkwardness of the plot, we often wonder what drew Oliver Stone back to this themes. Throughout the movie his direction seems to be trying to find itself.
Part of him is so in love with Wall Street that he seems to think he invented the 80's. Winnie tells Jake "you're so Wall Street it makes me sick" referring to both the actual stock market and the movie which isn't as iconic as Stone wants to think.
Another part of him seems to feel proud about having predicted back in 1987 that the world's economy would just continue collapsing until we all approached doomsday; however, this part of him also feels guilty and like Jake tries to atone through innumerable mentions of what alternative energy can do for the planet.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps doesn't know whether to condemn or to glorify and its overlong running time makes us sit through what ultimately is an unnecessary debate.
The one thing that rarely fails is Douglas. Even if Stone tries hard to humanize him (Gekko says "I'm human" more than once) the actor tries his best to remind us that first and foremost Gordon Gekko was so effective because he wasn't human.
Precisely because of his larger-than-life greed it was that he became who he was and not for one minute should we expect him to be turned into a politically correct version of materialism.
This is best embodied in a pathetic end during which Stone once again puts Gekko in the wrong kind of spotlight and we're left wondering if he's making some sort of comment about how easily human beings give "bailouts" to those who have wronged us (which would've turned the film into a twisted, great satire) or if he's just turning Gordon into the Grinch.
It's safe to say that the idea of Gekko getting the last laugh is something 80's Stone would've made, what we end up with right now is a reminder that he doesn't make them like he used to.