Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bardem, Bernal, and Cornish: Part 2

Having now seen The Motorcycle Diaries, Bright Star, and The Sea Inside, I figured it was finally time for the follow-up post. I have to say, I was impressed by all three films, and each one had its merits. It's disappointing that these three had such a poor showing at the Oscars in their respective years.
motorcycle_diaries_xl_13.jpg The Motorcycle Diaries image by ayleeno
The Motorcycle Diaries was an interesting, if episodic, glimpse into the life of famed revolutionary Che Guevara. What worked best about this approach to Guevara was that it presented him when he was still Ernesto Guevara, a doctor from Argentina who went on a trip around South America with his friend Alberto Granado (played by Rodrigo de la Serna). Gael Garcia Bernal plays Ernesto as fresh-eyed graduate ready to see the world, only to be deeply moved by the injustices he witnesses across the continent. The film doesn't always work; even for a road trip film, it's sometimes too disconnected, with a few unnecessary scenes killing the momentum. Still, it's an interesting glimpse into how Ernesto became Che, and definitely worth checking out.
Bright Star was a charming, elegant, and touching romance based on the relationship between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawn. Aesthetically, it was a marvelous; the film is beautifully shot, and the costumes are magnificently constructed. Though Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish give great performances, the real star of Bright Star is writer/director Jane Campion, best known for The Piano. Though many (myself included) have praised Oscar-winner/glass-ceiling-breaker Kathryn Bigelow as one of the finest female directors working today, Jane Campion is the true standard-bearer, proving herself here to be better than many of her contemporaries, male or female. Like the film itself, her talent as a director is subtly beautiful. Someone give her an Oscar already!
The Sea Inside was my personal favorite of the bunch, a deeply affecting, heartbreaking drama based on Ramon Sampedro, who fought the Spanish government for the right to legally end his own life after years of paralysis. Rather than seeming like a Spanish The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which was made three years after this film), the film takes a pro-euthanasia stance as it supports Ramon's decision, and Alejandro Amenabar's direction reflects Ramon's escapes into his own mind since he can't physically move himself. Javier Bardem, playing Ramon, delivers a singular, heartbreaking performance; why he was ignored for Best Actor in 2004 - I'd replace Johnny Depp with him, easily - is anyone's guess (though the film did win Best Foreign Language Film for Spain). It's a beautiful film, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Movie List of 2008

Finished it! I just finished watching The Duchess, so now I'm halfway done with my lists! Woo!
Will I finish them all before the 2010 edition? Probably not. But a boy can dream, can't he? Anyway, here's the rankings:
  1. Tropic Thunder
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. Wall-E
  4. Slumdog Millionaire
  5. Milk
  6. Rachel Getting Married
  7. The Wrestler
  8. The Visitor
  9. Gran Torino
  10. Frost/Nixon
  11. Doubt
  12. Revolutionary Road
  13. The Duchess
  14. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  15. Man on Wire
  16. Frozen River
  17. Synecdoche, New York
  18. Happy-Go-Lucky
  19. Defiance
  20. I've Loved You So Long
  21. Nothing But the Truth
  22. Vicky Christina Barcelona
  23. Australia
  24. The Reader
  25. Changeling

The Movie List of 2007

Just in case you were interested. I decided that if I were going to put up 2009, I might as well put all six up as I finish them. So here's 2007, and 2008 will probably appear tomorrow.
  1. Gone Baby Gone
  2. Juno
  3. There Will Be Blood
  4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  5. Into the Wild
  6. Ratatouille
  7. 3:10 to Yuma
  8. No Country for Old Men
  9. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
  10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  11. Michael Clayton
  12. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  13. I'm Not There
  14. American Gangster
  15. Hairspray
  16. The Savages
  17. Eastern Promises
  18. Enchanted
  19. Atonement
  20. La Vie en Rose
  21. Charlie Wilson's War
  22. A Mighty Heart
  23. The Kite Runner
  24. Lars and the Real Girl
  25. Away from Her
All in all, this is my favorite list of them all so far. Honestly there's not a single terrible movie on here, as there was in 2009 with that aberration known as The Blind Side.

The Movie List of 2009

I know, I know, it's halfway through 2010, why would I still be hung up on 2009? I've been trying to catch up on getting through the Movie Lists for various years. I've already made it through 2007, and I finished 2009 yesterday (I'll be able to finish 2008 tonight - these three I can finish because I only had two or three movies left on each list. 2004, 2005, and 2006 have a daunting 13 each.). But 2009 is the list I've finished the quickest, so I'm pretty proud of it. Anyways, here's how I rank the 2009 list (which, as a reminder, is based on Entertainment Weekly's 25 Films to See Before Oscar Night):
  1. Inglourious Basterds
  2. Up in the Air
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  4. The Messenger
  5. An Education
  6. Up
  7. A Single Man
  8. District 9
  9. Nine
  10. Star Trek
  11. The Hurt Locker
  12. (500) Days of Summer
  13. Avatar
  14. The Lovely Bones
  15. Precious
  16. The Informant!
  17. Crazy Heart
  18. It's Complicated
  19. The Last Station
  20. Bright Star
  21. Invictus
  22. A Serious Man
  23. The Young Victoria
  24. Julie & Julia
  25. The Blind Side
Agree? Disagree? Comment and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jonah's Hex

No, I haven't bothered to go see Jonah Hex (and I probably won't be bothered to at all), but I couldn't help but notice an article on io9 about the failure of weird Westerns both financially and creatively. The similarities between Jonah Hex and Wild Wild West (interestingly, they're a little over 10 years apart) are uncanny, and suggest that Hollywood can't make this genre work without making into a Michael Bay-esque spectacle.
Though the article makes some good points on how the weird Western could work, I can't agree that it would work completely. The main reason is that the Western, from a financial point of view, has fallen out of favor with the American public. There was once a time when there really was a frontier in America, and even though these films were made after the frontier had closed, the fascination was still present. Nowadays, though, this is not the case, as, thanks to the space race, we're now interested in what lies beyond our planet (hence the rise in science fiction circa 1950). There was a brief revival of the form in the early 1990s, but it passed quickly. Now we're treated to maybe one or two a year.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love Westerns; they're among my favorite genres of film, and in recent times we've seen some classics (my favorite contemporaries happened to be released in the same year: 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). And the idea of the weird Western is a fascinating one, one that I hope does continue. However, to make a high-quality weird Western, Hollywood might have to sacrifice the blockbuster expectations. That, of course, doesn't bode well for the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens.
What about you? Is there any genre of film that you wish could be done better? Comments always welcome.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Young Actresses These Days

When it comes to young Hollywood starlets, there are certain things that we expect to happen. For example, let's take a look at the Olson twins. Mary-Kate and Ashley managed to get by on doing nothing but being precocious on the so-wholesome-its-sickening classic Full House, but once they grew up, where did they go? To NYU (for a little bit), and a very short lived movie career (remember New York Minute? All too prophetic....), but mostly to the social scene where all you really hear about them now is what parties they showed up. Of course, I never felt the Olsons had that much talent to begin with, so I suppose its puzzling that their still popular. But then again, I suppose you don't need talent to be popular*.
But its depressing when talented young actresses do bizarre things. Take Lindsay Lohan. She had a stellar debut in 1997's The Parent Trap, and hit a career high with her performance in the severely underappreciated Mean Girls. But it all went downhill from there. In her personal life, she became a wreck, and is now a popular staple in the tabloids. Her acting career has suffered as well: there was that heinous 2007 debacle I Know Who Killed Me, or La Lohan on a Stripper Pole and her on-set behavior issues in Georgia Rule, also 2007. Her career may find some redemption in Robert Rodriguez's scholky Machete and Lovelace, in which she portrays porn star Linda Lovelace (you stay classy, Lohan).
Now, that's a bit of an extreme example for the purpose of this post. What I'm actually disturbed by is Amanda Bynes' announcement that she's retiring (via Twitter no less). Her reason, of course, is that she is no longer fulfilled by acting, and wants to pursue other options. Well, okay, but here's the deal: she's 24-years-old. I think it's a little too early to be retiring when you're still in your mid-20s. Also, think about this: it's been three years since Bynes last headlined a movie (2007's Sydney White). Since then, she's hand a few sitcoms fail to make it onto TV, so acting work has been hard for her. Maybe that's what she means by "no longer fulfilled?" And this fall she'll appear in Easy A as a religious Mean Girl who becomes Emma Stone's nemesis. It sounds like a meaty role for the girl who told Maxim she wants to be taken seriously as a woman now.
Bynes as Penny in Hairspray
Personally, I've always liked Bynes. Yes, she was mostly known for her slapstick comedy on All That, The Amanda Show, and What I Like About You. But I really do think she has talent, as evidenced in, in my opinion her best performance to date, Hairspray. She has a great voice, and she can do live comedy well. So TV and movies didn't work out for you, Amanda. Maybe, instead of retiring, you could head to Broadway? I'm just thinking out loud. I'd hate to see developing talent wasted.
*New York Magazine ran an interesting piece on Megan Fox's stock as an actress. This, of course, was before Jonah Hex earned its scathing reviews and awful box office. Though I don't think the latter bit changes the validity of their conclusion.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

One of the first movies that I saw in a theater when I was a kid was Toy Story. Whether or not it was the actual first or not, I don't remember (that honor may go to The Lion King). I loved it. When we went to Disney World the next year as a family, the first characters I looked for were Woody and Buzz. When I found them and received their autographs, I was as happy as a 6-year-old kid could be; to this day I still have those autographs, as well as a picture of me with them.
I say all this because Toy Story has a special place in my heart. I was overjoyed when Toy Story 2 came out; even though I was now 10, I couldn't wait to see Woody and Buzz in action again. But when it was announced that Disney would make Toy Story 3 without Pixar (this was during the negotiation days), my doubts were numerous. I was afraid that Disney would tarnish my precious childhood memories of characters that I had grown to love. Even when Pixar came back on board, I was still nervous; excited, of course, but still nervous.
That being said, I was thoroughly impressed with Toy Story 3 when I saw it yesterday (in a theater full of children, no less; apparently it was someone's 8th birthday party). It lived up to most of my expectations. In this third installment, Andy's going to college, and Woody and the gang are making attempts to get noticed and played with so that they won't be thrown out. However, a mix-up leads to Woody being placed in the college box while the others are meant to go up into the attic, but instead end up on the curb. All of them eventually end up at Sunnyside Day Care, where a lovable stuffed bear named Lotso (short for Lots 'o' Huggin' Bear) welcomes them. Unfortunately, Lotso actually runs the place as a high-security prison, and it's up to the toys to break out and find their way back to Andy before he leaves.
All of the favorites return: Jessie, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, Slinky Dog, the Pizza Planet aliens; it's a fit of nostalgia to see them as they grapple with the reality of their situation. The new characters are also fascinating, particularly Lotso and his sidekick, Big Baby; they provide villains whom you can't help but feel duped by.
I do have a few gripes about the film though. My biggest problem is that the film seems to have taken after other animated films (particularly Dreamworks films) in sacrificing some story and character development for the sake of jokes and pop culture references. This is something that has never really plagued Pixar films, and the fact that it has appeared in this one of all films is a little disheartening. That being said, its not as much of a burden to the film as it was in, say, Shrek the Third, but it is certainly troubling nonetheless. Another issue is that there was very little screentime for many of the new characters, many of which the producers went out of their way for to get big names to voice (such as Richard Kind, Timothy Dalton, and Bonnie Hunt). Pixar hasn't always been one to load their films with big voice talent, so this too is a little worrisome. It's possible that these could be partially to blame on Michael Arndt's screenplay, which is one of the few times that Pixar has brought in an outside writer.
But these grievances are minor compared to everything the film did right. For one, the film's theme of moving on comes at a time of transition in my own life, and I have to admit that that made the film even more personal to me. And the finale, which was surprisingly intense for a G-rated movie, had that trademark Pixar emotionalism that once again brought tears to my eyes (when you go to see it, I dare you not to cry during the last 10 minutes). And of course, there was the heart of it all: Woody and Buzz's unlikely friendship, which always shines through no matter what happens. For 108 minutes, I felt like that 6-year-old again.
On one final note: I've been reading a lot of articles about how Toy Story 3 is a lock for a Best Picture nomination. Now, it is definately the best movie I've seen so far this year, but I think it's a little early to be calling anything a lock. I have my doubts that, as good as Toy Story 3 was, it can make it into the field of 10 unless some of the major awards bait films turn out to be lackluster.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Defense of Glee *****SPOILER ALERT******

I know I'm behind, but today I finally saw the season finale of Glee on Hulu (as well as the last two episodes of Justified's first season, but that's a story for another time). Leading up to my viewing, I had heard grumbling about the way the season ended, and I was a little concerned when I started watching that Glee was starting to decline and would end a fantastic first season on a weak note.
Well, fear not. I thoroughly enjoyed the season finale, and I am ready to defend the creative decisions that the show-runners made.
Let's start with the music, since that seems to be the thing that everyone loves the most about this show. The Journey medley was fantastic (Glee is always at its best musically when its working with the '80s: "Don't Stop Believing," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," the whole Madonna episode but especially "Like A Prayer"), even if it felt like a less-realistic set for a performance than the set they did at Sectionals (and as a former chorus kid, I know this sort of stuff well). But "Bohemian Rhapsody" was not only an episode highlight, but the best integration of music and visual the show has ever done. That integration is something the show has struggled to figure out throughout the season, since it promised that the songs would not be fantasy sequences - a rule that it has broken several times - but could not be realistic either, since (most) people don't just randomly break out into song with a full band on hand (which I'm so glad the show will reference with a wink every now and then). But "Bohemian Rhapsody" accomplished a lot of things at once, allowing us to see both Vocal Adrenaline perform and the birth of Quinn's baby in one sublime sequence. TV doesn't get much better than those five minutes.
But here's the thing that I've seen get the most complaints is that New Directions, the scrappy underdogs we've grown to love all season, lost. That's right, they placed dead last at Regionals, despite Sue's vote (by the way, best line of the night: "Kiss my ass, Josh Groban!"). And I'm actually glad they lost too. Yes, I was cheering for them, and I do have an emotional attatchment to these characters. But their loss highlights the thing I love the most about this show, something that is rarely talked about but is nonetheless present in every episode: the sadness around the edges. For a dramedy/musical that's been heralded as wildly funny, nobody seems to notice how sad the characters are, even when it becomes the main focus of the episode, such as in "Dream On." Take a look at any one of them: Will Schuster (Matthew Morrison) was a choral superstar in high school, but now he's a divorced teacher in charge of a tentatively active glee club at an Ohio high school. Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is a national-championship-winning cheerleading coach, but she's still stuck in Ohio, her nominal fame doing nothing to take her on to better things (a point that's made in this episode). As for the kids, it seems unlikely that Finn will ever make it out of the state of Ohio, and Rachel's Broadway dreams will probably never come true. As Will says in his speech in the chorus room, five years down the road will any of them even remember each other? Will any of this even matter in the end? I greatly applaud Glee for recognizing that the glee club will not be involved in these kids lives forever, and that most of them will move on to do things that have nothing to do with singing and dancing. It's only here for the moment. And with New Directions losing at Regionals, that sadness comes to the forefront. But luckily, the club gets a one-year reprieve, setting the stage for them to do it all over again next year.
Will New Directions find that same level of success next year? Maybe, we'll have to wait and see. But Glee has established a great new direction for itself going into season two: how will the failure of Regionals change the club? Will there be an awakening of any of the characters (i.e. Rachel) from their delusions to see that just because they dream doesn't mean it'll become a reality? These are the kinds of things that I hope Glee will address next year.
What do you think? Was the Glee finale everything you wanted it to be? Or were you disappointed? Do you agree with the theme of sadness, or am I overthinking it?
PS Things I wasn't thrilled with: Rachel's mom convieniently swooping in to adopt Quinn's baby, Jonathan Groff's Jesse St. James not getting a proper send-off after his relationship with Rachel, and the lack of great Brittany one-liners in the last few episodes. But whatever.
PPS The Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "I keep expecting racist animated Disney characters to start popping up and sing songs about living on the bayou."
PPPS To the Emmy voters who are claiming that Glee is not a comedy because it's an hour long and doesn't have a laugh track like a traditional sitcom: television comedy is evolving. It's okay for a comedy to have some dramatic moments and comment on the realities of life. I suggest you catch up to the present.

Catching Up

I finally have Internet! Hooray!
So the Tony Awards were Sunday, and though I never did get to put up my preview before the ceremony, there were several surprises this year as the Hollywood stars came in and pretty much picked up everything (though, to be fair, it was a weak season on Broadway from what I understand). Below, my breakdown:
- I wasn't too surprised that Memphis won Best Musical, since it was the most traditional musical of the bunch (and the only one with a completely original score). I, however, was kind of rooting for a Million Dollar Quartet upset, just for funsies.
- Best Play went to Red by John Logan who, after losing the Oscar races for his Gladiator and The Aviator screenplays, finally picked up a major writing award. I was surprised that Red ended up being the biggest winner of the night, though, since I thought that Best Play Revival winner Fences would clean up (the latter did win Best Actor in a Play for Denzel Washington, who's halfway to EGOT, and Best Actress in a Play for Viola Davis, who should be halfway to EGOT for her performace in Doubt two years ago). In fact, the only category Red was nominated for but didn't win was Best Actor in a Play, in which Alfred Molina was nominated. Which makes me sad, because once again Molina got ignored in favor of someone who emerged late in the race (think back to last year's Oscars, when Molina was a front-runner for Best Actor for An Education until Jeff Bridges showed up). Maybe one of these days his talent will finally be recognized.
- Speaking of revivals, did you notice how revivals fared much better than originals this year? In the acting categories (plays and musicals), 22 of the 40 nominations came from revivals, and of the acting winners, only two were from an original show: Levi Kreis (Million Dollar Quartet) won Featured Actor in a Musical and Eddie Redmayne (Red) won Featured Actor in a Play. Like I said before, it was a down year.
- Also speaking of revivals, I was shocked by how little La Cage Aux Folles picked up. Despite 11 nominations, it only won three Tonys: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Douglas Hodge), and Best Director of a Musical (Terry Johnson). I was certain it would own the night, but I guess not.
- Wasn't Sean Hayes a great host? It was kind of tacky to have him be a host when he was also a nominee, but he was so good I'm willing to forgive. He should do this more often.
- Jay-Z and Will Smith, producers of Fela!, were obviously uncomfortable throughout the whole ceremony. As much as I like them both, Broadway is not their arena.
What did you think of the broadcast? Did any of the wins surprise you? And, since I don't live in New York, can anyone vouch for any of these shows? My former roommate Josh says that Ragtime was amazing, but that's the only one that I have a first-hand account of.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bardem, Bernal, or Cornish?

So as soon as I get an Internet connection (I'm at a Starbucks right now) set up in the apartment, I'm going to try to catch up on everything, including finishing my Movie Lists (made from Entertainment Weekly's 25 Films to See Before Oscar Night lists from 2004 t0 2009). So here I ask you, which one should I watch first:
The Sea Inside, in which Javier Bardem plays a man who fights for his right to be taken off life support? (This won the Foreign Language Oscar for Spain in 2004)
The Motorcycle Diaries, in which Gael Garcia Bernal stars as a young Che Guevara on his way to becoming the famed revolutionary? (This won Best Original Song and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2004)
Bright Star, in which Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw play Fanny Brawne and John Keats, respectively. (This was, surprisingly, only nominated for Best Costume Design in 2009, despite being touted for so much more)
This three are the only ones on the List available as an instant play on Netfilx, so that why they're kind of random. Anyway, tell me what you think, and I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

For Your Curiosity.....

Sorry it's been so long. Hopefully, before the end of the week I'll be back with more, including Tony predictions (which may be wildly misguided, since I've seen none of the shows thanks to my geography) and a review of Get Him to the Greek (eh) and maybe even Splice. It's moving day again tomorrow, so wish me luck.
Until then: here are few things I've found that are quite interesting for your enjoyment.
The newspaper that apparently everyone in television and cinema reads:
Jaws is a much smarter movie than you originally thought it was:
Just in case you want to know who's up for Emmy nominations, here are the official nominating ballots:
In honor of Prince of Persia, here are games that would make great movies ( and games that would make terrible movies (the crazy thing being that some of these are actually in development):