Monday, March 28, 2011

Smilin' Through

Due to the fact that this past weekend contained my senior prom (which was very exciting, for anyone who may care!), I have not gotten a chance to watch a single movie since last week's Elizabeth Taylor tribute...and that feels like so long ago. Today I struggled to stay awake for all of Goodfellas (1990), and not because it was a bad movie. Anyone who's seen it knows it's anything but boring, but I was buckling under the exhaustion of a very long weekend and I just couldn't seem to keep my head up. I had to rewind it to watch the scenes I snoozed through, and even then my eyelids were fighting me. Needless to say, it was a very difficult accomplishment.

This has got Martin Scorsese's brilliant little handprints all over it- certainly an apogee of the director's bold style. The technique I dig the most is his tendency to pair upbeat classic songs with macabre scenes of death and keeps his films from ever rolling over into the deep end of drama. Emotional detachment like this feels refreshing in today's drama genre, where every new film out there seems to be trying so hard to make us cry that it forgets how to be good.

Robert De Niro is one of the funnest guys to watch onscreen.
Seriously...every time he steps into the frame of a movie a little part of me wants to jump up and applaud because I just know it's about to get good. And while he gives a satisfyingly awesome performance here, I don't think he wins this film.
If I were going to hand out a medal to the actor who does the most powerful mobster impression in Goodfellas, I'd have to give it to Ray Liotta. His screaming, cursing, gun-slinging gangster is as bad-ass as they where was his Oscar, Academy?
Instead, the award went to Joe Pesci, a bronze-medal-er in this one, if you ask me, slotting himself in well behind Liotta and De Niro on the figurative acting podium. Incidentally, Pesci's acceptance speech was among the shortest of all time. The guy got up there on the stage, picked up his statuette, and delivered the following eloquent, emotional address: "It was my privilege. Thank you." Really, that's all you got, Joey? No genuine appreciation of any kind? I'm sure Ray Liotta's speech would have been brimming with joy and sincere gratitude if he had been given his rightful crack at the golden man.

Anyway, I seriously loved this movie, but it failed to surpass The Departed (2006) in my book. That's Scorsese at his finest, if you ask me, and anyone wanting to brush up on this director's modus operandi ought to pop that one out of their Redbox.

I'm approaching the realization that this list is not going to be finished by the end of the year, and though the thought of failure makes me want to give up completely, I'm just going to keep smilin' through until the credits roll on 2011 and see how far I've come by then. Who knows...maybe I'll have some sort of breakthrough in a few months and power my way through the remainder of the movies. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Tonight, the world mourns the loss of one of the greatest actresses of all time. Elizabeth Taylor, an iconic figure sprung from Hollywood's Golden Age, died today in Los Angeles at the age of 79. She will forever be remembered for her explosive acting talent, sophisticated glamour, and the turbulent private life that captivated the nation and redefined what it meant to be a true movie star.
I had planned on watching Goodfellas(1990) tonight, but in light of today's tragedy, I thought it would only be fitting to raise my glass to our fallen star (figuratively speaking, of course) by reliving one of her greatest performances.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) held so much more meaning for me watching it for the first time on the eve of its star's demise. Elizabeth Taylor has this glowing, vibrant energy emitting from her every second that she holds the screen- a force we no longer have in Hollywood; the likes of which we may never see again.
Tin Roof delves deeper into the human soul than I had braced myself for. It brings us down into the troughs of love, trust, and brotherhood before carrying us back up onto the crests of triumph over guilt and fear. The powerful presence of Paul Newman fuses with Taylor's radiant shine to create an acting duo so tremendous that it will never be erased from cinematic consciousness.

Burl Ives (playing a memorable "Big Daddy") spoke this of Taylor's character in the film:

"Yes indeed, this girl has life in her body. And that's no lie."

I heard that line tonight and almost choked up thinking of how profoundly true his statement rang, rings today, and will continue to ring as long as there are cameras rolling somewhere in this world. Elizabeth Taylor had an effervescent life in her that infected a nation and tore open an entirely new dimension on the silver screen. Her adulthood may have been marred by rabidly-followed controversies, but I believe that history will remember her as the extraordinary artist that she was, counting her among the most influential individuals ever to step onto a set.

Hollywood would never be the same after "One-Shot Liz" rolled through, and we wouldn't have it any other way. The dimming of her candle marks a definitive end to the bygone era in American cinema that is considered the very best of all- our glimmering Golden Age. It is with a heavy heart that we bid adieu to America's most beloved screen personality. A trend-setter. A trail-blazer. A legend. A Giant.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

True Grit

Why does time pass so much faster when you have important things to get done? It's like some sort of switch exists in the space-time continuum that flips on and off depending on the urgency of the tasks at hand. Seriously.

But anyway. It took some true grit on my part to stay awake and watch a movie tonight. I'm nearly nodding off now and I would be asleep already if I hadn't just witnessed such an awesome movie.

Before tonight, the only Scorsese film I had seen was The Departed (2006), and it was so good that I sort of bought into the whole Scorsese-craze. But after conquering Taxi Driver (1976), I'm all in. For real, this guy is a savant.
He gives his movie such an edgy, desperate vibe that I feel like I've become more hard core just from watching this one. Seriously, I could probably go rob a bank right now and not even break a sweat. Thank you for the inspiration, Marty.

...and now

It almost made me sad to see a fresh-faced, vibrant young De Niro after having watched his current geriatric self hobble through his latest work on Saturday. I miss this old Deer Hunter, muscle-bound, silky-locks De Niro (have you checked out his hair lately?? yikes...); this movie reminded me exactly why we consider him to be one of the greatest actors alive. I'm pretty sure he's the only guy out there who could make a reclusive taxi-driving potentially racist quasi-stalker seem like a lovable guy while also shooting up an entire whorehouse in the presence of a young child. That pint-sized whore was played by a young Jodie Foster, who wasn't Scorsese's first pick for the role by any means, but after a string of girls turned it down, the already established child-star Foster was tossed the part. Personally, I thought she did a pretty good job. But nowadays she just sort of bothers me. I really can't put my finger on why...but for some reason I want to throw my coke at the screen every time her face is on it.

Anyway, I loved Taxi Driver. LOVED it. I see now why it's up there with the greatest movies ever made (number 52 on the American Film Institute's list)'s certainly up there with the best movies I've seen. So, in light of my new-found love of gritty Scorsese flicks, I'm thinking Goodfellas (1990) is going to be my next viewing. And with that, I'm heading off to bed.

Well, with that, and... "You Talkin' To Me?????? I Said...You Talkin' To Me??"
(Greatest. Line. Ever).

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Lost Weekend

If you're trying to get your movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but you're at a loss for titles, here's a suggestion: name it a name. That's right- a simple, first & last name title is a thing of value to the Academy, and I did the counting tonight to prove it. 17 films with name-names have been nominated for the award since they started handing these things out: Alice Adams(1935), David Copperfield (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936), Kitty Foyle(1940), Mildred Pierce (1945), Johnny Belinda(1948), Julius Caesar (1953), Elmer Gantry(1960), Tom Jones(1963), Mary Poppins (1964), Barry Lyndon (1975), Annie Hall(1977), Norma Rae (1979), Forrest Gump (1994), Jerry Maguire (1996), Erin Brockovich (2000) and number 17,tonight's feature, Michael Clayton (2007). I'm sensing a pattern here.
Clayton starts with a bang, lets up, and then has you figuring out what might possibly be going on for the better part of two hours in a long series of cryptic conversations and dramatic stares into mirrors and out car windows. Still, for all that mental work you have to do to actually enjoy the film, it ends with a pretty subdued catharsis. It's Erin Brockovich-meets-Jason Bourne without the do-good joy or the gritty action, but let me be clear: it's not a bad movie. It just isn't an explosion...the matte, emotionless format that Tony Gilroy shapes always feels like it's building to something, like it's holding back a bull that's just about ready to burst out of its stall and stampede...only we get to the end, and it turns out that the bull was just a lamb all along. And that's not a bad thing, because lambs are good too, they just aren't bulls. Which is a little disappointing to someone who came to see the bullfight.
But I have to hand it to George Clooney; he really made this movie. Suave, tough, smart, caring- there's few dimensions Clooney doesn't develop in his performance, except maybe fearfulness....Michael Clayton doesn't do fear. Clooney gives Clayton just enough smooth awesomeness to make us love him while keeping the character grounded in reality, so we can hope that someone this cool might really exist out there. Love it.
And Tilda Swinton is scary good. She's got fragile evil in the bag, delivering to us a villain that doesn't look the part- one that we almost feel sorry for, all wrapped up in a neat little bow. I'd say she totally deserved the Best Supporting Actress Oscar she won for this part.
So anyway, my final verdict is this: good, but not explosive. That makes this picture so real. But my question is this: do we really go to the movies for reality? Or do we go to get swept up in larger-than-life stories that only Hollywood magic can create?

Return of the King: Jackson is back!

In other news, production has FINALLY begun on the long-awaited Tolkien project The Hobbit, helmed by Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson. The two-part epic will surely grab much more attention as it picks up momentum, since it will be serving as a prequel to Jackson's wildly successful Rings trilogy. Personally, I could not get enough of LOTR...collectively, the three serve as one of my favorite movies of all time. The only fantasy film ever to snag a Best Picture Oscar, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) is still regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. Basically, the bar has been set pretty high for the latest installment in the franchise (if it can even be considered that), and Jackson should be feeling that pressure all the way in Wellington, New Zealand where the shooting is taking place. Unfortunately for us, we will have to wait until late 2012 to see the first flick hit theatres (and til late 2013 for part two).

Now this has absolutely nothing to do with the BPC and is therefore very unnecessary, but seeing as I went to the theatres for the first time in a long time this weekend, I thought I'd share some thoughts.
It's not often that you can get me to pay ten bucks to go see a movie when a DVD is five to own or one to rent, and the extra expense is just to see it on a much bigger screen with louder people sitting around you. Let me save you some time and money by advising against my latest expenditure: Limitless.
It was a good idea. Really, it could've been an OK film had it been done well. But relative newcomer Neil Burger sort of strangles this one in the crib with tedious narration and an effects overload. Luckily, Robert De Niro is awesome (if not aging) no matter what he does, and Bradley Cooper is extremely attractive (and has a lot of potential, if you ask me) that in itself may warrant a Red Box rental later on down the road. Maybe. Just exercise caution when approaching a half-baked movie like may end up losing some IQ points.

Anyway, that's all I've got to show for this whole weekend. I'd call that another lost weekend for sure. When will I ever learn my lesson: stop trying to sleep at night, stop having a job, stop doing schoolwork, stop having friends, and watch more movies! I'm starting to feel like I'm drowning in a project that I can't possibly hope to finish...

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Last night consisted of a coffee milkshake, my flamingo pajamas, and An American in Paris (1951), a charming little musical that is still loved and respected today. I feel warm inside just remembering how good it felt to wrap up in my snuggie and bob my head along to Gene Kelly's swinging dance numbers, giddily applauding his light-hearted love story. Yes, I would say I'm now a major fan of this movie.

I wasn't expecting to recognize any of the songs in this ancient musical...but "I Got Rhythm" is one of the most beloved classics in the world, and who knew it came from this movie? Every minute of watching and listening to Gene Kelly is like crack...I just couldn't get enough of him. Seriously, this guy is fantastic! He can sing, he can tap-dance like a machine, and he can act like nobody's business...perfection, basically, in human form.

The other day I mentioned how pumped I was for the release of "Beautiful Boy", although sadly a release date has not yet been announced. Tonight I went ahead and watched the trailer...and now I'm practically beside myself. This one looks incredibly sad, but one of those good sad know?

And as exhausted as I am from this long week, as much as I'm praying for some sort of deliverance from this hectic springtime rush into the calm of this summer, I managed to fit in one more movie tonight: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).

An engaging seafaring classic, Bounty was everything I had hoped it could be, having known of this legendary film my whole life and never getting around to seeing it. I'm getting more and more used to these black and white movies, which used to disinterest me and now barely phase me at all. In fact, I actually loved how the black-and-white picture gave this one an authentically historic feel...and this movie truly is historic: it was the last film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar without winning any others, and the only one to have all three of its actors nominated (Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone) though none of them won that year. Gable was my favorite lead of the movie, as he holds the screen with tremendous power. Still, I do have one question: why did men wear their pants up so high back in the day? It's almost impossible for anyone to look attractive when the height of their belt buckle exceeds the height of their belly button. I'm just sayin.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grand Illusion

There are approximately 800 things that I could, or rather, should be doing right now besides sitting back and watching a movie...but I can't seem to shake this grand illusion that, if I just slough off more and more of my school work to focus on the Best Picture challenge, I will eventually accomplish this daunting feat and somehow achieve a level of movie expertise to which few are privy. Unlikely, but I'm still clinging to the belief that I'm going to grow up to be the next Peter Travers.

So as long as we're playing pretend-movie-connoisseur, I think I'm going to discuss my feelings towards some of this year's projected big hits...but only a few. Notice that I have not babbled on about how pumped I am for Scorsese's pricey 3D flick or Spielburg's one-two punch at Oscar gold this year...I'm sticking with the four that have my wheels turning the most.
I've read only good things about upcoming "Beautiful Boy", which hit the film festival circuit in August of 2010 but has yet to enjoy a wide release. The story follows a mother and father- played by Michael Sheen and Maria Bello- as they struggle to cope with the news that their son shot up his college before taking his own life. The hype surrounding it has been hard to ignore and I'm getting all fired up for a release date to be announced.
It could find some competition in "We Need to Talk About Kevin", another upcoming movie that follows a strikingly similar plot line. However, the names atop this one are just a little bit grabbier (John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton respectively can always draw a crowd). Could we be seeing Kevin take the lead sometime soon? This is a battle I'll be following all the way to the ticket booth...
And while there are other movies coming down the pipe soon that I've got my eyes on, no other work-in-progress gets me giddy with excitement like "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", which will star Sandra Bullock and my all-time favorite, Tom Hanks. I absolutely loved the book and I can't wait to see what Stephen Daldry does with the film. We have a bit of a wait for this one, though, as it's currently still shooting.
Also: "The Tree of Life". An enigma, to me, because it topped many prediction lists for last year's Oscars and yet somehow has managed to elude release all this time. The date has finally been set (May 27- mark your calendars!), and it will surely open to a crowd given the vibrant anticipation attached to the picture. I've seen the trailer, and I have to admit it looks fantastic. My money's on Brad Pitt to go for the Oscar from his performance here (I hear it's super good...get excited!).

Oh, I almost forgot. The reason I actually started this post at all, my current movie. I conquered Crash (2005) tonight....and it was unbelievable. Seriously, why had I not seen this before?! I wasn't expecting such an affecting, sweeping drama- and what a cast. There were so many fantastic performances that I can't even list them all, or even pick a favorite. Everyone popped. And it was interesting to compare it to the last two movies I saw, as both of those also dealt with forms of racism (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1966) and The Defiant Ones (1958) in case you need a refresher). This one brings our toughest racial quarries into today's world and forces us to look at an ugly side of society that we like to pretend does not exist. Peter Haggis wove many contrasting strips of story into one warm quilt of a film with effortless perfection- the type of smart, intricate delivery that we just don't get to see too often. Crash is brilliant in every way...and probably one of my favorite films in the challenge so far. If you haven't seen it yet, go get it. Right now.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bad Girl

It's the same every weekend. I go into it thinking "Finally, the weekend! I'll have so much more time to watch movies!"...and end up so busy that I actually lose days and movies. I was a bad girl again this weekend and didn't get around to sitting down for a showing until tonight (though, can you really blame me when I worked more hours these past three days than I have in the past two weeks combined?).

It's late, and I'm tired, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Nobody wants to read a long, rambling page anyway, least of all myself.

Tonight's pick was The Defiant Ones (1958), another racially charged drama, following hot on the heels of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1966). Again, this one features Sidney Poitier, ever the dazzling scene-stealer, and the masterful direction of Stanley Kramer, who also crafted Dinner. Kramer has an enormous reputation in the film world, and he certainly lives up to it here.

The theme of the movie was a groundbreaking and thought-provoking one at the time, as many Americans were still caught in the throes of the widespread bigotry that plagued the nation. We follow a white prisoner and a black prisoner who are chained together as they make their desperate escape from a southern prison. At first, the two despise each other and are constantly on the verge of starting an all-out brawl, but through a series of harrowing encounters and stiff situations, they are able to transcend their deeply rooted prejudices to develop a firm friendship.

Round Two of Poitier let me see a different, blazingly brilliant facet of a man who clearly understood everything about bringing nuanced life to a character. His white costar, Tony Curtis, proves he is able to hold his own against the legend, displaying a strong screen presence and fierce delivery. And Kramer's passionate hand directs this piece into deep, affecting territory with tremendous skill, proving once again that he's our guy when it comes to tearing down racism.

Anyway, that's my opinion of the movie as fast I could give it. This was my second chain-gang film from the list , but when I compare it to I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933), I have such a tough time picking a favorite. Each has something different and stirring to offer...this is one I'm just going to have to sleep on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Talk of the Town

So as I've written before, we're studying Death of a Salesman in my lit class right now. I spent each class reading the play thinking to myself: "wow, this would make a great movie"...and then, what do you know, my teacher whips out a film version of this classic story.
Don't get too excited, though...the 1985 made-for-TV movie is as big a let-down as getting socks for Christmas. It was only watchable because Dustin Hoffman, in all his brilliant glory, gives us the ultimate Willy Loman while the rather attractive young John Malkovich breaks our hearts as soul-searching Biff.

Here's what I'm thinking (Hollywood, you might want to take some notes): We need to give this timeless story a makeover, bring it into a 21st century context, strip it down visually while infusing some gritty realism, and tie it to a bitchin soundtack (you know, peppered with spot-on indie tracks like "Garden State"'s was...and then I'd like my boy Alan Silvestri to whip out a tear-jerking orchestral score like he did in "Forrest Gump" and "Cast Away"...if he's still got game).

Then we'll pop a few of my favorite people into the leads to really bring home the money. For Linda Loman, I'm feeling a solid Meryl Streep really can't go wrong with this lady, and if she pulls out those innocent rosy cheeks she was flashing in "Julie and Julia", then there probably isn't a woman in the world who could play this part better.
For Biff, I think Jesse Eisenberg will do. He's got the puppy dog face and the broad range to handle the job. Plus, as we observed in his recent film "The Social Network", there's just something so inherently human about the guy that makes him prime material for a tragedy like this.
My pick for Happy is a little bit out there, though, so just bear with about a little Tom Felton action? We already know he can play a cold-blooded kiss-ass from his sprightly work in the "Harry Potter" franchise, so why wouldn't he be able to pull off the womanizing suck-up of this story? The kid screams superficial sometimes and quivers in his vulnerability at others- exactly the type of persona that Happy Loman would need to exude.
Finally, I don't think I'd be alone in stating that Tom Hanks, an actor of practically immortal stature, would play a dead-on Willy Loman. The man can do anything, but I think his best niche is here in the realm of the tragedy of the mundane (as I so affectionately call it). The fate of the entire movie rests on the audience's ability to feel for this character, and no actor alive is better at making America fall in love than Mr. Hanks.

Anyway, that's what I want to see coming down the pipe someday. I don't think that's too much to ask of you, Hollywood. Make it happen.

I don't have enough thumbs to stick up for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)'s that good. There's nothing better than watching firmly-held stereotypes get so completely crushed...and in the hot racial period in which this film was released, it must have been the talk of the town. I mean, interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states the year this movie came out, so I can't even imagine the kind of stir it created when it shed such a favorable light on the subject.

The context of the film is almost more interesting than the film itself, if you ask me. Even if you don't consider the ground-breaking timing of the movie's release, you can still be blown away by the power of the people playing in it. Seriously- Sidney Poitier leads in this one. Sidney Poitier. That in itself makes the movie a big deal.

Mr. Poitier continues to be an American legend and celebrated cinematic hero: in 2009, President Obama even gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the country's highest civilian big deal). He broke the ice for African-Americans in film (though Hollywood still seems to lack a solid reservoir of African-American actors) and became the first black man to snag an Academy Award for Best Actor. But you probably know all that already if you happen to be here reading about classic movies...

His affluent character absolutely destroys the typecast black man of the time, so we can't help but applaud him all the way through. Still, two other performances constantly threaten to steal the screen from him, especially when you take a look at what was going on behind the cameras.

Dinner marked the seventh and final joint effort of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, as Tracy died just 17 days after the shoot wrapped. In the final scene, when Tracy delivers a passionate monologue to his motley dinner guests, we see Hepburn looking on with a face full of tears- real ones, because she knew that this would be the last time she would share the screen with her friend, and that he was not long for this world. The crew had to adjust the filming schedule so that Tracy could participate even as his health fell apart. Knowing that, I couldn't help but tear up as the final credits rolled.

I could probably go on for days about this picture, but I'll spare you the (additional) rambling. The weekend's coming up and I have a pretty tight work schedule, but I'm going to try my hardest to stop the days from getting away from me without fitting in some movies. I'm already falling miserably behind in this slightly impossible challenge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All That Jazz

Tonight I decided to give this blog a it looks just a little bit more like a real blog and a little bit less like a word document I opened up to play pretend.

I also learned how to put pictures onto the blog by googling how to put pictures onto the blog...who knew it was that simple?

Anybody know what movie that picture is from?? If you guessed I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933), then you would be absolutely correct. But don't be fooled by the fuzzy black and white framing of the film into thinking that it's a boring, dialogue-heavy snoozer like most other movies from 80 years ago...because this one is anything but.

I fully expected to be bored into a state of semi-consciousness when I popped this ancient picture in last night...but even though I planned on daydreaming my way through it just so I could cross another title off my list, I soon found myself completely sucked in to what turned out to be a surprisingly fresh drama- one that kept me pinned to the edge of my seat from start to finish.

If you're not familiar with the film: it follows a wrongfully accused veteran of the Great War to the brutal chain gangs of the south, where he briefly suffers before boldly busting out one day during a day shift of labor. A couple of hair-raising close calls ensue before he settles in at what appears to be a respectable boarding house...until he starts shacking up with the land lady. Big mistake. The chick turns out to be a stage 5 clinger (Wedding Crashers reference, anyone??) and blackmails him into a miserable marriage...I'm actually not going to spoil the rest of it because this is one that you should go see for yourself, but I will say that it has a pretty epic ending that I liked even though it wasn't a happy one...and I don't usually like unhappy endings.

Chain Gang plays out like a more intense (and altogether better, for that matter) "Cool Hand Luke" with an endearing 1920's spin (who doesn't love to hearken back to the times when hamburgers only cost 15 cents??). Its gritty shots resemble today's abstract filming style more than that of the time from which it came, giving it that edgy feel that we have come to love and expect from our crime dramas. And to top it all off, Paul Muni is a babe. Seriously.

Anyway, that was last night. Tonight I conquered Broadcast News (1987), which was a complete 180 in tone and pace. This one is driven more by witty dialogue and character explorations than by an exciting plot, but that in itself doesn't stop the movie from being enjoyable. It's got the ethical dilemmas, sexual tensions, professional struggles- all that jazz that makes up a mature comedy in which we can find a deeper, hidden meaning.

I got a real kick out of recognizing familiar faces, since a few I wasn't expecting floated across the screen in this one. Jack Nicholson shows up as the usual cocky hard-ass that he plays all too well; Joan Cusack bumbles across the film in big 80's hair and spastic movements; her brother, John Cusack, also makes a cameo; and I seriously could have sworn Phillip Seymour Hoffman played a tape operator in the very beginning of the movie, but he isn't billed...

I wouldn't have realized that our outwardly harsh (yet inwardly insecure) heroine was Holly Hunter if her voice wasn't so distinct...she's really changed these past twenty years, hasn't she (remember that awful TV show they tried to shove down our throats, "Saving Grace"? Yeah, that was her...)? Back in this day, she gave a beautifully layered performance of a driven career woman who secretly craves love. On the other hand, I just wasn't buying William Hurt's rendition of a "sexy", "enigmatic" news anchor with good intentions but a less-than-perfect IQ score. Maybe that's because when I look at him, all I see is the old Amish dad from "The Village"...or maybe he was miscast? I don't really know. All I do know is that, while he is clearly a very talented actor, he isn't exactly a glove-fit for this part. Perhaps he seems this way because his co-leads Hunter and Albert Brooks are cast in their parts with deadly accuracy. And while I have a tough time taking Brooks seriously after watching a much older, plumper version of the guy play a goofy foot doctor in "The In-Laws" at least twenty times (it's one of the most worn-out DVDs in my collection...funny every time), I can't deny that his subtly nuanced performance verges on stealing the screen. His repressed, intellectually under-worked, winsome victim of unrequited love completes a character trio that works together like a harmony...perfectly balanced.

I felt so adult liking this comedy, because that's just what this film adult comedy. It has a lot more to say than just what it says, especially concerning contemporary American journalism and workaholics the world over. The bits about honest news in jeopardy have particular relevance today, I feel, as our media descends into a state of moral atrophy. I'd have to say this is a pretty good little movie.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Longest Day

After a long weekend of avoiding any progress while simultaneously putting off my homework and pressing scholarship applications, I finally finished one film in order to save these last few days from being a total waste. However, this only happened after I made it past the longest day I've experienced in quite some time. I hustled through the opening shift at the ice cream shop where I work, sped home for my brother's and sister's confirmation (Catholics, anyone??) barbecue, jumped back in the car to return for the closing shift at the shop, stumbled out to look for a dress to wear to tomorrow night's ceremony (no luck), and made it back home just in time to be too late to get a good night's sleep (or any, for that matter) and still get everything on my rambling list done. Not that anyone should care about all that rushing around...I'd just like the world to know what I had to go through today to get to my next installment on the Best Picture Challenge List.

Wow. That's the first word I could form after sitting through Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire (2009), a gut-wrenchingly depressing movie about incest, AIDS, illiteracy, inner-city violence, abject poverty, and all sorts of other wonderful little subjects that leave tiny little holes in my heart every time I remember that they exist. To think that this movie could be based on a true story is truly unthinkable to me...I was choking back sobs and praying for a rainbow to emerge from this storm-cloud story all the way to the closing credits. Well guess what (spoiler alert!): there isn't much of a rainbow here. You could probably count all the smiles in the whole movie on just one of your hands (even if you were missing fingers).
And I have a real beef with the back of this DVD case, which blatantly lied to me: it had "IRRESISTIBLY INSPIRATIONAL!" printed in all caps across the top of it, as if all the critics in the world concurred that this was the feel-good flick of the year. Um, excuse me, world? The only thing this movie inspires me to do is kill myself. The DVD case's string of lies continued when it described the film as a story of "revelation and celebration". I don't recall any miraculous revelations in this wrist-slitting festival...I pretty much knew that Precious' life brutally sucked from start to finish. And what exactly are we celebrating here? The fact that our teenage hero is going to die from AIDS in the very near future and leave two innocent little children homeless on the Harlem streets while her pathetic old mother shrivels up and dies in her moldy apartment? You're right, DVD case, that's a real party right there. Thanks for tricking me into watching the most horrifically sad movie I've ever had to see.

Even though the movie itself encourages self-mutilation, the performances that shape it are brilliant. Mo'Nique stands out the most in the villainous role that won her last year's Best Supporting Actress...and gurrrrl, did she deserve that award. I hardly recognized her underneath all the cornrows and Ebonics. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe pulls off the perfect Precious, evoking both overwhelming pity and fierce admiration from a tearful audience. Even Mariah Carey turns out to be good, which might have been the biggest surprise of all. In this movie, just being able to share a frame with Mo'Nique in all her sobbing, jiggling glory without melting into a sticky puddle is quite the accomplishment. So way to go, Mimi.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sense and Sensibility

Due to my keen ability to function for long periods of time without sleep, I was able to go all the way through this night without a moment of rest and knock out my science project, a reading of Death of a Salesman, and some tricky French. Even more exciting, I got a double feature in during this time thanks to my multi-tasking skills (though in hindsight I probably could have fit some time for sleeping in if I had turned off the tube and actually focused). Why am I such a procrastinator? If I had any sort of sense...and sensibility...I would have started this project at any point during the two weeks I had to do it. But unfortunately, I have none. That's why I'm trying to cram movies in during these early months of the year so I don't end up in a frantic scramble come December. With all the work still ahead of me, though, I foresee a mad December dash anyway.

I kicked off the night with The Thin Man(1934), a light murder mystery story clearly coming from a different place and time. The hero and heroine, a married couple, were shown sleeping in separate beds...what a wild departure from this year's nominees' vivid sexual imagery! It seems to me that much of what is emphasized and explored today in contemporary films was understated and subtly played in the distant classics, like this picture.
Throughout the movie, I kept wondering if the recent "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" featured title characters with stolen names (if you've never seen this one, the two crime-soliving main characters are named Nick and Nora). I also wondered why they always had that dog following them around. And while I did find myself chuckling at a few humorous turns, I just don't know if early 30's cinema is really my scene...but I guess I'll find out when I sift through the other nominees and winners of the time.

I chased that one with Ninotchka (1939) and found it significantly more entertaining. Perhaps this is because 1939 was just a golden year ("Gone With the Wind" popped out this year and is still going strong in the movie world) or because this movie is simply better. Either way, I spent a lot less time writing my science paper and a lot more time staring wide-eyed at the screen during these 110 minutes than when "The Thin Man" was blazing across my living room.
I'd heard the name before, of course, but this was the first time I'd seen Greta Garbo in action. She seemed simultaneously cold and endearing in her role as the suave Russian envoy of the title, bringing to life a deft, humorous story of romance in high society Paris. This was one of the first American films to portray the Soviet Union under Stalin, though it does so under the translucent cover of comedy. Despite that groundbreaking fact, it went home completely empty-handed from the 1939 Academy Awards (not really surprising considering Wind was sweeping through the ceremony). There's a little history lesson for you...don't worry, it's free.

In other movie news, 127 Hours was released on DVD and BluRay (but who actually has a BluRay player??) today, and I rushed home from school to buy my copy. It may have gone home sans a statuette on Sunday, but "Citizen Cane" didn't win either, and look how it's doing now.