Monday, November 29, 2010

Live From the Kodak, It's Anne Hathaway!

Everyone and their moms have already commented on the great news that the lovely Ms. Hathaway will host the Oscars next year (oh yeah co-host with this dude called James Franco) so as you can imagine from the love I profess for her all the time (just click on her name in the tags down there) I obviously wasn't going to let the moment pass without a celebration.
I was at the office when I found out the awesome news and when I went for lunch what was my surprise if not to see that the November issue of Vogue had just arrived to my local magazine store.
Who's on the cover? Of course it's her...
Now if you'll excuse me, I've had a long day, I proceed to retire to bed with Ms. Anne.

How did you all like this news? (The Oscars, not me in bed with Annie...)

For the press release go here.

Crush of the Week.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Winter's Bone ***

Director: Debra Granik
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey
Kevin Breznahan, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, William White

It's refreshing to see a movie about poor people and drug dealers that doesn't feel like a movie about poor people and drug dealers. Debra Granik's Winter Bone is a masterfully told tale of tragedy and misfortune amidst social decay that doesn't need to be exploitative to get its point across.
Jennifer Larence stars as Ree Dolly, a seventeen year old living in the Missouri Ozarks. Her mother is in a catatonic state (we never learn how she ended like that) and Ree has to take care of her two younger siblings with whatever little money and supplies they get.
Her father, a crystal meth maker, has gone missing but not without doing one last misdeed: he put the family home as bail bond and unless he appears within a week, the authorities will take over the property.
Ree sets off on a search for her father that will lead her to encounter evil and violence among territory she realizes is completely unfamiliar.
Instead of becoming a manipulative tale about how much this young woman suffers, Granik turns it into a Gothic fable, a feminist rite of passage even. The director sets up a micro universe among the mountains which defies the strictness of cinematic realism.
We know all along that something about the setting and characters have more to do with The Night of the Hunter than with Frozen River, as Granik filters this world through her own vision of mythical America instead of approaching it with the preachiness of a biased documentary (there's a haunting scene near the end of the movie that convinces us Granik would've been a better choice to remake Clash of the Titans).
This is a universe of inverted justice where outlaws make the rules and Ree's search is a threat instead of a cause for people to unite.
There are tribal qualities to the structure Granik presents us where women are subjugated by their drug manufacturing men but still have the power to kidnap and beat a young girl.
Where patriarchal figures aren't defined by blood links but by power and fear, as is the case with White's creepy Blond Milton.
And in this strange, nightmare like setting we have our young heroine going through journeys usually reserved for men. It's this way in which Granik bends the rules of gender that makes her film so fascinating.
When we see Ree teaching her siblings how to shoot a rifle, we aren't supposed to be pitying their lack of parents but surprised by Ree's hands-on approach. Since the entire film rests on her back it's fortunate that Lawrence plays her with such conviction and ease.
She makes Ree someone who has learned how to deal with life the hard way but hasn't lost herself in the process. Whenever something goes wrong for her we know that we won't have to endure melodramatic scenes and dialogues, Ree just picks herself up and moves on.
Lawrence amazingly avoids making her a martyr and we see how every little thing this woman does is carefully thought out. When she intends to join the army to raise the money to save her house (again not as melodramatic as it sounds) we see that her sacrifice isn't done out of some deep need to be praised but merely because she needs the house.
In a film with several fine performances (Hawkes is phenomenal as Ree's strange uncle) Lawrence owns the film and carries it with the confidence of a mythical figure. "Ain't you got no man to do this?" asks one character, Lawrence convinces us nobody would've done it better.
During one of the first scenes in the film we see as Ree wanders along the hallways of her siblings' school. She peeks inside one class where she sees how students train to handle babies. She moves on to another room where she sees a group practicing a military march. Granik shows us here how Ree is always in the outside looking in, while establishing that her film is not an attempt to say something about the "real" world but simply telling a story.
And she's so good at it that we can imagine Winter's Bone being told around a campfire.

My Own Love Song *½

Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Forest Whitaker
Madeline Zima, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte

If there's something you can't accuse Olivier Dahan of is subtlety. More than a storyteller he's a pointer, someone who constructs entire universes just to point out a specifically dramatic trait or event in his characters' lives.
Remember how everything in La Vie en Rose for example, was a constant attempt at over dramatizing the already melodramatic life of chanteuse Edith Piaf?
The incoherent editing, the fantastical plot twists, the heightening of emotions through exaggerated visual aids, all with the purpose of exploiting sentiment.
It's not a coincidence that when we first meet Billie (Zima) in this film, she's desperately looking for her wedding band. Minutes later we learn that Billie's husband, like her ring, has disappeared without a trace.
This is the kind of thing Dahan does to point what will become obvious, it's as if he doesn't trust his audience and is constantly trying to tell everything twice.
When My Own Love Song begins we meet former country singer Jane (Zellweger) she's sitting alone in a bar waiting for people she can be mean to apparently.
A stranger approaches her in the way men approach lonely women in bars and Jane proceeds to kick and chew his balls in every way she can. Seconds later, we and the stranger learn that she's in a wheelchair.
Ah, seems to go Dahan's mind, Jane is a bitch because life has been a bitch to her!
After this display of self pity and contempt for humanity Jane wheels herself to her humble house. So far we know she's handicapped, bitter and likes to go to bars. Consequently we will learn she lost her husband in a car accident, had to give up her son to social services and most shocking of all, she has stopped singing! Jane is a Susan Hayward character without the camp.
Jane's best friend is Joey (Whitaker) who can just be described as a magical negro. Period.
He has a stutter, he delivers life changing advice in every line of dialogue and he also talks to angels.
We really can't see why he would even like being around Jane if it wasn't because we know he has a role to fulfill in transforming her hum-drum life. This chance comes in the shape of a trip to Baton Rouge where Joey expects to meet a famous author (who writes about angels) and he also intends to trick Jane into attending her son's first communion (how he finds out this is even occurring is as preposterous as anything you'll see in this film).
They take off towards their own figurative Emerald City where each plans to have their wishes granted. Along the way they meet quirky characters, like the aforementioned Billie and a strange singer (Nolte) who confuses urban legends with myth and has a penchant for magic brownies.
My Own Love Song perhaps would be a better movie if Dahan had concentrated on developing the characters as opposed to finding ways in which to symbolize their every thought in some exciting visual manner. When Jane writes a song about birds we are stuck with a cutesy sequence where the characters walk accompanied by animated birds straight out of a Wes Anderson after school special.
The movie however is mostly a very French take on what an American movie must be like. Get a couple Oscar winners, a soundtrack made out of Bob Dylan songs, squeeze the hell out of quirk and filter all this through the all-American genre by excellence that is the road movie.
It's a pity that the film represents a return to form for Zellweger who has been so intermittent on the big screen this decade. Her Jane might not be extraordinary but the actress does her best with the little she's given, both the actress and the character deserve a much better film.

Style Sunday.

Halle Berry is a vision of elegance in this simple white Alberta Ferretti.
Absolutely everything about her looks is sophisticated perfection. Almost no jewelry, simple hair and makeup and as usual she lets her gorgeous face do all the talking.

Don't you just wanna put Anne Hathaway in your pocket sometimes?
The Oscar nominee is all kinds of adorable in this vintage looking Valentino that would've been just as appropriate for Twiggy's wardrobe as it is for Anne.
She keeps everything simple and classy (the shoes are magnificent!) and her Miu Miu clutch gives the outfit just the exact amount of discrete color it needed.

Which of these ladies in white is your favorite?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fun Under the Sun.

Easy A ***

Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Emma Stone, Alyson Michalka, Penn Badgley
Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson
Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow, Cam Gigandet, Malcolm McDowell
Dan Byrd, Jake Sandvig

You know how they usually say "save the best for last", right? Have you noticed then, how movie credits usually do that when they know they have something special on their hands? They refer to a special someone by "introducing" or "presenting" and in some cases they go by the very humble "and". Such is the case of Easy A, watching its inventive credits we take in a quite remarkable cast (Kudrow! Church! Tucci and Clarkson! McDowell! all of whom are amazing by the way) before we are told that there's also someone named Emma Stone starring in the film.
What nobody tells us is how much of Ms. Stone we'll be seeing and how extraordinary she is. She plays Olive Penderghast, a high school student who unintentionally sets her reputation on fire.
Trying to look for an excuse to indulge in some secret single behavior and not hang out with her constricting best friend Rhiannon (Michalka) during the weekend she tells her that she has a date.
Come Monday morning, Rhi interrogates Olive so much that just to shut her up she ends up confessing she lost her virginity to a college guy during the weekend.
This confession happens to be heard by school prude Maryanne (Bynes) who then proceeds to spread the story faster than an STD. Olive soon becomes notorious for putting out and she begins getting the strangest requests from people who ask her to say she had sex with them to lubricate their high school social status.
In this way she "beds" a closeted gay guy, an underachieving geek and just about anyone else willing to give her a gift certificate for some nice restaurant.
Unlike teen flicks where the idea of sex is shrouded by mystery, prudishness or just plain horniness, Easy A approaches it from a completely mature place and makes us wonder exactly what is so special about sex in a day and age when it could either mean uber coolness or complete degradation.
The screenwriters aptly compare Olive's conundrum to that of Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter who had to carry a red letter on her dress to condemn her adultery and the director asks us for example what are social networks if not scarlet letters of our own making?
Therefore when Olive realizes the mess she's in, instead of trying to dispel the rumors she becomes empowered by them. She creates a strong sexual persona for herself in which she can feel comfortable and powerful.
Of course, the movie never implies that people should go around faking sexual histories and we see how the situation gets out of hand for the heroine but we leave the movie wondering why we act towards sex like we do.
How many people you know for example, have faked entire stories about their conquests or inversely lied about their promiscuity? For what purpose?
This movie makes us question the idea of sex in a world where it can become a pro or a con. For everyone who thinks it's awesome we slept with three strangers during a weekend, others are ready to take us to hell and make us pay for these sins.
The best thing about Easy A is that it doesn't pretend to know the answers to these questions, like a living thing it makes discoveries along with its protagonist. And what a star they got!
Stone is pure comedic perfection. Watch how she delivers her complicated lines without the awkward selfconsciousness of Ellen Page or how she embraces her provocative beauty without the lack of restraint Lindsay Lohan came to show at some point.
Her performance is amazing because of the way in which Stone becomes Olive, there's no tick-tock examination of the character as she acts, none of the selfrighteous "I'm a teen" mode actors in similar movies have.
It's funny that Olive is such a fan of 80's teen comedies because in a way she embodies the evolution John Hughes' work should have commended to the genre. Instead the genre got stuck in trying to recreate his films without taking into consideration that things would change.
Interestingly enough the film makes fun of itself all the time, especially when it defies viewers to contradict its ridiculous, but true, points.
Therefore at times Easy A plays like a compilation tape that chides this generation for its need to be famous by way of infamy while bashing in the privileges that come from sexual liberation.
Emma Stone may be no Dr. Ruth but she sure knows how to guide us through the joys and calamities of sex.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Again, I just love how The Green Hornet is trying to make us think Seth Rogen is the most attractive man on the planet.
See him there, most of his face hidden by the famous mask, just a bit of scruff and a severe, mysterious look. Really, if you had no idea he was starring in this and just happened to see the poster in a theater lobby who would you think is playing this part?

Your (L)ove

This was the best film I saw at the Guadalajara International Film Festival back in March.
I was afraid I'd never see it again, given it's a short film and everything. However thanks to the magic of YouTube here it is and I wanted to share it with you all.
It's a lovely told love story that reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Brief Encounter. It is told with such authoritative expertise that I ended up using it as a manual of sorts; not that you care about my sentimental affairs but this movie helped me heal from one of the worst heartbreaks I've ever had.
Its insistence in decoding the nature of love through biological processes is only more aching because we know there's no reasoning when the heart speaks out...

How did you like it?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Am Love ***½

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Tilda Swinton
Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher
Pippo Delbono, Maria Paiato, Gabriele Ferzetti, Mattia Zaccaro
Waris Ahluwaia, Marisa Berenson

I Am Love feels like watching an opera on mute. Despite its baroque qualities, strokes of Sirkian melodrama and decadent visuals, its intensity seems muffled, brilliantly contained, so that we're forced to face what we see under a new light.
Anchored by an astonishing lead performance by Tilda Swinton, the film concentrates on the slight downfall of an Italian industrialist family.
The Recchi family is formed by patriarch Edoardo (Ferzetti) and his wife Allegra (Berenson). Their son Tancredi (Delbono), his Russian wife Emma (Swinton) and their children: Edoardo Jr. (Parenti), Elisabetta (Rohrwacher) and Gianluca (Zaccaro).
When we first meet them they are celebrating Edoardo Sr.'s birthday where he announces he's retiring from business and passing the business to his son Tancredi and his grandson Edoardo Jr.
His grandson's inclusion sends the first ripples of change as family and friends begin to wonder why the patriarch would do such a thing, especially considering Edoardo has just come from losing a race earlier that day, to a chef.
When the chef, Antonio (Gabbriellini), arrives at the party that night bringing a cake as a peace offering, or perhaps aware that he has unintentionally imbalanced the Recchi clan, there is a strange feeling of discomfort in the film.
Coming from the lush, long sequences where we saw the family smile and toast over expensive silverware and in even more expensive gowns, we suddenly come to the image of this young man standing outside in the snow with a box.
He opens the box to show the cake to Edoardo and his mother but we never see it and any feelings you might have that this mysterious cake is in fact a bomb about to explode, will be completely justified as the film unfolds.
As Edo takes a liking to Antonio so does his mother and in an exquisite scene we see her realize she might be attracted to the young man as she relishes in a prawn dish.
As they embark on an affair, the film's title begins to make sense as love lands on the Recchis with complete aplomb. Emma who at first had been more of a supporting character suddenly takes prominence (and you have to see how surprisingly easy it becomes for the fantastic Swinton to not steal the show). It's almost as if the film begins to get rid of the layers that concealed who she really was to begin with.
If you thought you had seen all that Tilda Swinton could do, you are in for a real treat with her subdued performance as Emma.
The chamaleonic actress slips into this woman with such ease that you have to wonder where one ended and the other began. Swinton's worldly features take on the quality of someone who know nothing and it's a thing of beauty to see her light up as she begins to discover the world for the first time.
Watch her in scenes with Rohrwacher (a strike of genius mother-daughter casting) as she shifts from flawless mother figure to full blown woman and later in scenes with Gabbriellini as she completely disregards these maternal qualities and turns them into complete sensual surrender.
Despite what the character makes us believe at the beginning, Swinton is in full command in this film; you can feel her love for challenging art in every frame (it helps that she's dressed by Jil Sander and Fendi) as she exploits and bends established genre conventions.
Because in the strictest sense, I Am Love is an efficiently executed melodrama with a straightforward plot we've seen a million times before but its mise-en-scene and planning reveals layers that serve as means to explore European economic history, various artistic movements and metaphysical notions of what is to love.
For example on the surface, Emma's affair comes off as something typical of a romantic novel (she's even named after Madame Bovary) but she's also used to explore the role that Russia came to figure in non-communist Europe.
We realize how Emma had to overcome her entire legacy in order to fit in this wealthy Italian clan. We learn that Emma isn't even her real name (her husband gave it to her) and we can assume she's come to form part of a life that would've been considered the antithesis of what she was before.
Therefore when she begins her affair, besides all the sentimental and carnal connotations, we can detect something else being said. Why is she so attracted to this young man who's so outside her social circle?
It can be no coincidence that Emma becomes attracted to the only character in the movie who is not bourgeois. Is she identifying with him, because like her Antonio didn't receive everything on a silver platter?
Is this affair an actual rebellion towards the forces of capitalism that the Recchis represent? This is particularly striking because in a subplot we see Edoardo Jr.'s refusal to sell the company to a huge industrial group out of loyalty to tradition. Guadagnino doesn't invest too much in this particular story but he is trying to say something about the way in which love subverts the notions we have of materialistic success.
Besides these political strokes, Guadagnino also pays homage to Hitchcock, Malick and especially Visconti (the first part is straight out of The Leopard and it's no coincidence he named one of the characters Tancredi...) as he indulges himself in long takes of these people's lives and surroundings.
Everything about I Am Love can get to be so majestic and pompous that we often are left wondering how it's also able to haunt us so much.

"Be happy Cliff."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

While Watching "The Leopard"...

...I had to wonder if The Godfather would exist if it wasn't for this work of art.

Style Sunday.

I here by declare Carey Mulligan the official poster child of this series.
She's wearing Lanvin.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Room in Rome *½

Director: Julio Medem
Cast: Elena Anaya, Natasha Yarovenko
Enrico Lo Verso, Najwa Nimri

Even if he has a fantastic eye for sensuous visuals and material eroticism, Julio Medem has absolutely no clue about how to be subtle. Therefore this movie, that could've easily been a melancholic, oversexed version of Brief Encounter, becomes soft porn with elaborate dialogues and tears.
There is not much of a plot and the film basically revolves around a single night two, not-so-single, women spend in a Roman hotel room.
At first all we know about them is their nationalities; Alba (Anaya) is from Spain, Natasha (Yarovenko) is Russian. Later we also learn one of them is a lesbian as she convinces the other to surrender to desire and have sex.
During the rest of the film they forget to put their clothes back on and spend the hours sharing secrets, stories, orgasms and something they both think begins to resemble love.
It has to be said that for playing characters that sometimes defy logic, the actresses fare really well. Anaya in particular brings a sense of deep sadness to Alba that make her moving even when she's exchanging emotions with a cellphone.
Both women are exquisitely beautiful and probably make the admission price worthy for any audience members just looking to satiate their imaginations but there are moments in the film when they go through so much bullshit that you have to wonder if they are naked to symbolize them baring their souls or Medem is trying to distract us from his terrible writing by having them have a naked pillow fight.
For every thing that the movie gets right; like the moments when these women do silly things and feel completely alive, there are times when Medem can't help but show off his gimmick. Mostly his film feels exploitative because other than a scene here and there, every single element in it seems too thought out, too preconceived.
The characters in Medem's head seem to be people created specifically for the purpose of existing in this very limited universe he created. One of them for example turns out to be a Renaissance expert, not because it makes her more complex but because that way Medem can make all sorts of references to how his plot was prepared by Italian history.
And for every time that the movie gets something right along the way, the director comes and sticks something as unsubtle as Russian Red's Loving Strangers, a song that not only becomes annoying after popping up so much but robs the film of anything that even remotely resembles real emotions.
It's interesting that during many moments we see Google Earth be essential to the plot, this gives us a glimpse of the film that could've been: a nostalgic doomed romance grounded by the fact that modern life hasn't made finding love any easier.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming films.

If someone had told me I'd be looking forward to a Paul Haggis movie I would've punched them right in the nose. However this is precisely what the marvelous posters for The Next Three Days have been doing for me.
This one sheet in particular looks like a lost piece of advertising from a Steve McQueen movie and as such it's perfection.

And the award for best campaign of 2010 has got to go to Black Swan.
I'm not crazy to see the movie as most are but I'd surely hang any of the posters all over my house. Such beautiful works!

Excited to see either of these?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Uncomplicated Joys.

Kylie Minogue - Better Than Today

Fun without being obnoxious.
Sexy without recurring to vulgarity.
Energetic without being pretentious.
Now this is how you make a music video people!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spanish Lesson.

Gwyn for the Emmy next year!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Style Sunday.

Sarah Jessica Parker hosted the Bambi awards in Germany changing dress more than seven times. This Elie Saab goth princess look is my favorite though. Just see how easy it seems to wear and how gorgeous she looks with those lose tresses and just take a look at the shoes!
This woman can never do wrong.

When in Rome...
To walk the CMAs red carpet for her big country singer debut, Gwyneth Paltrow seems to have decided it was time she tried to fit in with others fashion-wise at least.
So she went to Atelier Versace and asked them to make her a brilliant version of the rainbow dress Faith Hill wore to the Oscars a decade ago.
The genius workers at Versace came up with a dress that's one part Donatella Versace, two parts country glitter, a gazillion parts sexy and classy all the way.
Despite the degradé being difficult to pull off Gwyn manages to do so because all those colors work just so perfect with her skin tone and blond hair. We also love she got her figure back, she has never been the curvy type but she does look amazing in this dress (that leg!).

Why do you think Gwyn and SJP are always so flawless when it comes to clothes? Have you ever seen them do wrong?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Everyone and their mom have discussed the poster for the new version of Jane Eyre and truth be told they have every reason to do so.
A wonderfully rich mix of using images, text and color to deliver a message, this simple cameo-like one sheet really makes me want to see the movie.
Mia Wasikowska seems to be out of The Piano and Michael Fassbender's gorgeous face forming like a mist of sorts in her makes for a great way to highlight the ghostly in the romance that fills this story.

I have to confess I am not a fan of either Ryan Gosling or Michelle Williams (I don't hate them either or anything) but I'm really curious about what the hype surrounding this movie is.
I love how raw the picture is and I am really curious about that NC-17 rating!

You dying to see any of these romances?

Friday, November 12, 2010

"I trust award shows, they tell me how much to care about different dead people."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Due Date *

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis
Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, Jamie Foxx, RZA

Todd Phillips newest entry in his "disgusting heterosexual males have feelings too" series, teams up Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in a preposterous, unfunny story about daddy issues and wreaking havoc.
Downey Jr. plays Peter Highman, a successful architect on his way home from a business trip in order to attend his wife's (Monaghan) C-section.
In the airport he runs into Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) an eccentric struggling actor who pretty much destroys his carefully laid plans.
After a series of misunderstandings they end on a no-flight list and are forced to cross the country together to get to Los Angeles.
In almost every aspect the film is an odd couple sort of thing-Peter's the control freak, Ethan's the mess-and as usual Phillips exploits the crassness in every single way he can.
Perhaps there are people who will find it funny when Peter punches a child in the stomach and others will laugh out loud as Ethan masturbates while his dog imitates him.
Yet for every "asshole" and "fuck" uttered by these two men, Phillips has an ace up his sleeve to try and make us go "awww".
We learn that Ethan is carrying his father's ashes (in a coffee can of course) and Peter himself was abandoned by his dad at an early age.
So without any intention to be subtle about anything, the screenwriters let us know that in the form of Ethan, Peter will not only get to practice about taking care of children, he will also exorcise his inner demons.
But why oh why do we have to suffer through this expiation as well? Not only is the film overlong and pretty obtuse, it also lacks the slight fun factor Phillips' previous films have had (not they're good movies or anything...)
Downey Jr. who is usually charming, comes off looking as a total monster here and while it's true that the part demanded him to be less nice than usual, most times he's plain ugly to watch.
Galifianakis is another thing altogether. Perhaps you know if you'll like him based on your first impression of him; when he first enters the scene you will either chuckle as you do whenever Monsieur Hulot or Groucho Marx first pop on camera or you'll dread every minute afterwards for having paid the ticket.
Galifianakis is a complete acquired taste, for those who dislike his one-note kind of comedy it doesn't really help that here he plays the same guy from The Hangover, at least he makes them both act the same way.
In the way Peter has to deal with Ethan we too have to put up with the comedian and truth be told he makes Due Date feel like a nine-month long endurance test.

She's Country Strong!

Did you watch Gwyneth Paltrow's live debut as a country singer at last night's Country Music Awards? Well neither did I.
I can't say I was surprised by how great she was (because I'm biased and she's also a phenomenal singer) but I loved the standing ovation in the end (Nicole better force her to sign up for The Danish Girl again!)
I love how nervous she looked and also am wondering if she learned to play guitar from her friend Madge...
Besides the fact that she wore absolutely fabulous shoes to the show, something which I'm pretty sure is a big no-no at country music venues, she showed some real angst.
Can't wait to see this at the Oscars again. Do you think the producers will bring back performances from the Song nominees?

Same Difference.

The poll over at IMDB today confirmed something I said the other day:

Denzel Washington has been making the exact same movie all decade long.
Did that undeserved Oscar win in '01 make him stop challenging himself as an actor?
Are these movies making Julia Roberts' life any better?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mother and Child **

Director: Rodrigo García
Cast: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington
Samuel L. Jackson, David Morse, Shareeka Epps, Amy Brenneman
Marc Blucas, Jimmy Smits, Cherry Jones, Elpidia Carrillo
S. Epatha Merkerson, David Ramsey

There is something about Rodrigo García's vision of women that feels both spot-on and terribly, terribly cliché.
At times his characters achieve an intense melancholy and feel so lived-in that it's completely annoying how seconds later he forces them to deliver elaborate dialogues that make them sound like they've just arrived from Peyton Place.
In this case his screenplay centers on the relationships between mothers and children. We have Karen (Bening) a middle aged woman whose life was marked by the fact she gave up her daughter for adoption almost forty years before. This has made her cold and so afraid of people that she doesn't know how to respond to the attentions she receives from a new coworker (Smits).
Elizabeth (Watts), the daughter, is a successful attorney who uses sex as an asset and the fact that she was abandoned as an excuse to have no attachments. "I don't have expectations to fulfill" she tells her new boss (Jackson) before she begins an affair with him.
Then there's Lucy (Washington) a woman contemplating adoption given she can't have children of her own. This complicates her marriage since her husband (Ramsey) is reluctant to raising a stranger.
The film unfolds like something González Iñárritu would've made as we see how the three parallel stories eventually converge into one massive, tear-your-heart-out conclusion.
What fails in Mother and Child is that because of García's need to be poetic (usually highlighted by his elaborate camera moves and unrealistic dialogues) we never really think there's an emotional peak coming our way.
We are usually left wondering what will be the climax and this doesn't mean there's some sort of mystery going on, it's just that the director sometimes even forgets some of the stories he's telling.
There's a massive disconnect in Lucy's story especially as we see the other two women move forward in time and she's stuck in the same episode (that or either a freakishly long pregnancy from a mother to be played with charming confidence by Epps).
The movie is saved because of the performers. Bening provides beautifully nuanced work and it's a wonder to see her because the plot first tries to turn her into Charlotte Vale from Now, Voyager yet the actress finds a way to move past this extremely melodramatic mood and by the movie's end she has bloomed into a full blown human being.
Bening is stuck with some preposterous scenes where she writes letters to the daughter she has never met, any other actress would've turned these moments into exaggerated postcard moments, Bening though seems to know there's an awful amount of silliness to them and performs them like a duty, which gives her character a natural quality impossible to judge.
Watts is good but the film under uses her and turns her too much into a femme fatale (Elizabeth would've been played by Glenn Close in the 80's).
The film's revelation is actually Washington who is able to do so much with so little. Her character disappears for rather long amounts of time and we find ourselves wondering what is happening to her, more than anyone else in the film.
The manner in which she completely gives into Lucy is remarkable. She is able to embody sexuality, despair and intense warmth without recurring to cheap dramatic tricks. In a particular scene as she wonders how to deal with a baby's needs she screams "who the fuck does she think she is?" and this is perhaps the only moment in the entire film where we fully grasp what it's like to be a mother.
The pain, confusion and relentless patience that comes with motherhood isn't really easy to convey or to understand and Washington does this with effortless grace.
Mother and Child often feels rushed, despite García's languorous directing and it's fair to think that it might've worked better in serial form where we could've gotten to know these women more and understand some of their rash decisions.
Cinematic form turns it into an obnoxious condensed soap opera that never does justice to the larger themes it wants to study.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Kids Are All Right ***

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo
Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

The Kids Are All Right is a sweet little movie about the power of family; each of its quirky twists and turns are precisely studied to deliver an old fashioned adult tale with the spirit of an indie.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple who have been together for years and have two children: Joni (Wasikowska) and Laser (Hutcherson).
When Joni turns eighteen she decides it's time to meet their biological father and without much effort finds sperm donor Paul (Ruffalo) who's also Laser's father.
From here the movie follows a summer where Joni prepares to leave for college and Paul becomes an important part of their family.
The film could've easily been about Joni's search and concentrated on her misadventures trying to find this man; however, director Lisa Cholodenko (who co-wrote the screenplay with Stuart Blumberg) is more interested in studying what happens to these people when someone from the outside comes and disrupts their structure.
Structured in a series of situations and events in which we see them together, the film flows smoothly. We see the kids having lunch with Paul, Paul meeting the moms, the kids hanging out with their friends etc. At first the film seems aimless but soon we realize that Cholodenko never really meant to tell a self-contained story. This is a slice of life. These characters' lives are supposed to continue after we leave the theater.
Truth be told this wouldn't be as easy to achieve without the film's terrific cast. Bening gives a beautifully layered performance as the controlling Nic. She's the breadwinner, trying to provide for her family and the actress taps into a restrained melancholy that makes her performance haunting.
The best thing about watching her (and this also goes for the rest of the cast) is how liberated she seems. There is not a single moment in her performance where we catch her acting, Cholodenko seems to have a thing for closeups and Bening's face makes a perfect canvas to deliver all kinds of emotions. Her performance feels truly naked because of the way the actress allows us to get so close that we can count her wrinkles but still she puts resistance for us to get into her soul.
Moore is absolutely brilliant as the free spirited Jules. Watching her with Bening is witnessing pure chemistry. The film sometimes tries too hard to portray them as a perfect equation of opposites attracting and in one of the film's funniest scenes Nic says that while she wants her kids to send out thank you cards, Jules probably would be OK with them sending out good vibes.
In the hands of lesser actresses this sort of relationship would catch fire or just freeze, with Bening and Moore it feels almost familiar.
Some of the best scenes in the film are where we see them at their most intimate, sharing their pet names for each other or just watching TV, they make you feel at home.
This perfectly embodies what the movie usually gets so right and it's the way in which it moves past silly preconceptions about "gay cinema" or groundbreaking territory. Cholodenko usually avoids this feeling of "message movie" and we are left wondering how does she capture the awkwardness of being in a family?
Ruffalo is also great, if he had been trying to become the male sex symbol during the past decade, this movie should get him there. His Paul is a manchild of sorts trying to keep up his business and realizing that it might just be time for him to settle down.
The way in which he tries to be both father and friend to the children is funny and also achy. There are glimpses of regret and sorrow in his performance that we're able to catch when he's not being cool or having sex with women.
Ironically, despite his great work, the film doesn't really feel comfortable when he's around. The Kids Are All Right might've been a flawless movie if it had concentrated more on just the family. This rupture feels too much like a cute episode concocted just for the sake of getting some indie cred (making it fit into the "alternative" families subgenre) but as we learn in the end all that really mattered was what was home all along.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

This week featuring two marvelous actresses everyone loves to hate (and they shouldn't because they're just such magnificent thespians! And also two of my favorite actresses...)

First up is John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole which comes up with an interesting poster that could've been simply genius if it wasn't for the fact that they stuck Kidman's face in it.
I've nothing against her gorgeous silhouette but it really takes away from the creepy tire swing and the vast emptiness of the sky.
Perhaps in a way the poster does sum up the way the movie is perceived by some: an artsy drama getting attention mostly because it was produced and stars a true superstar.

There are so many bad things going on in the one sheet for Country Strong that I won't even begin to list them.
Would it have been too hard for the marketing department to come up with a cool faux concert poster for a movie about a singer? (Think Walk the Line)
Even so, why not just use Gwyneth Paltrow like they did with Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart?
Sigh, this thing looks like a collage made by someone with no regards for lighting, human sizes and Photoshop.

Why do you think people dislike Gwyn and Nic so much these days? Every time I bring Paltrow up I'm attacked by people saying terrible things about her. The other day I told a friend she was my favorite actress and he told me I couldn't be throwing statements like that around too lightly...
Would you have reacted the same way?

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's Raining Gwyn!

Apparently Glee heard how much it annoyed me and wanted to win me back. So they want and got Gwyneth Paltrow to guest star!
She'll be in an ep in two weeks and wait for this, she's doing Umbrella! But wait there's more! She's doing a mash-up of Umbrella and Singin' in the Rain!
That's like three of my favorite things of all time rolled up into one big package! It was about time Ryan Murphy gave me something to be gleeful about! (Hardy har har)

Are you excited to see Gwyn on the small screen? I for one, thought she hated TV sets, like her BFF Madonna she seems to be against things us mortals couldn't do without. This month she actually seems to LOVE TV, she'll also appear in the CMA's performing the song from her new movie! I do hope we have a Gwyn invasion for the rest of the year! Don't you?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 *½

Director: Tod Williams
Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim
Vivis Cortez, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Keeping with the tradition of having our food digested and savored for us that Hollywood seems to be so fond of, here comes Paranormal Activity 2, a movie so unnecessary and just plain dull that it'll be no wonder if it becomes a huge box office hit.
Done in the documentary style of its prequel (which we learn is actually a sequel) the plot concentrates on telling us how an evil demon ended up in the house of Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat).
For this purpose we watch footage from Kristi's (Grayden), Katie's sister, house as she brings home her newborn baby and strange things begin to happen.
Her husband (Boland) thinks she's exaggerating and her stepdaughter (Ephraim) is so terrified by the strange events that she's drawn to carry her handicam everywhere to document the bizarre occurrences. Why a teenage girl is carrying around a video cam and not a hi-tech phone is never explained or reasoned with and this is one of the many flaws you have to forgive the movie for...if you're dying to get into the experience.
If not what you'll see are two things: an over-the-top disposable horror flick which tends to think that more is more and forgoes the silly simplicity of its predecessor in order to show that the filmmakers made enough money to come up with more expensive, but still cheap-looking, effects and if you're willing to cut them so slack you actually can admire the fact that in recurring to Blair Witch like gimmicks the creators of Paranormal Activity seemed to have tapped into the latest, endless, moneymaking cow. They have created a formula that can last them forever as they explore in further sequels or prequels how the demon got to Kristi's house for example.
This realization that such mediocre filmmaking can be perpetuated, while real art and clever entertainment vanish, is the one truly terrifying thing about this movie.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Red **½

Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren
Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine, Karl Urban
Richard Dreyfuss, James Remar

Red has got to be one of the most fortunately cast unfortunate movies ever made. When you got the likes of Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren starring in a graphic novel adaptation you expect it to be brilliant or at least guilty pleasure.
The truth is that Red is none, it's more of a by-the-numbers thriller that under-uses its fascinating cast.
Willis stars as Frank Moses, a former black-ops CIA agent who's pulled out of retirement when agency members begin hunting him for a mysterious reason.
All he knows is that whatever's going on has to do with a secret list compiled by a reporter and that he has to keep an eye out to save Sarah (Parker) the phone operator he's developed a crush on.
Trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together he visits old friends including his mentor Joe (Freeman having more fun than he seems to have had in years), paranoid Marvin (a scene stealing Malkovich) and former wetwork agent Victoria (a sexy, luscious Mirren).
The movie then uses them in an assortment of situations that never achieve the kind of twisted lunacy you could get from having Helen Mirren and John Malkovich shoot machine guns together.
For all of its call to insanity and rebellion the film actually plays it very safe. It's always a delight to watch actors at the top of their game and when the veterans surprise you, it's also great to see Urban get some time in the spotlight, his turn as obsessive agent William Cooper is all kinds of wonderful. The one missing link in the cast is Parker who is totally miscast here, her part called for someone who played the part fully and gave herself to the insanity of it all, in the vein of Madeline Kahn in What's Up Doc? while Parker here seems selfconscious.
There's really not much to elaborate on Red without making it sound like it's a movie that should've delivered brilliance and without taking away the few merits it does have.

While Watching "Vampires Suck"...

...I was actually surprised when I found myself giggling a few times. It was sorta refreshing to think that a movie could squeeze one or two jokes out of something that's already as unintentionally funny as the Twilight series.
Still skip this movie at all costs! Not that you didn't know that before...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crush of the Week.

Reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I can not imagine someone other than Noomi playing this part. She's magnificent!