31 December 2008

A conversation between RJ and a friend after watching the 'Bride Wars' trailer

RJ: Weird . . .

Emma: What?

RJ: Isn't Kate Hudson a lot older than Anne Hathaway?

Emma: Hmmm . . . maybe.

RJ: I mean, isn't she like 40?

Emma: No! At most, she's 35 or something.

RJ: Still, isn't Anne Hathaway like 19?

Emma: I think she's 22.

RJ: Look it up.

Emma: So . . . apparently Kate Hudson is only 29, and Anne Hathaway is actually 26.

RJ: What?!

Emma: I think Kate Hudson seems older since she's been around for a while.

RJ: I'm still not seeing that movie.

That was a conversation between RJ and a friend after watching the 'Bride Wars' trailer.

It is Written: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I flat out love Danny Boyle, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

What makes Boyle a great and brave filmmaker is that he's always teetering on the edge of over direction and unnecessary strangeness, but (with the exception of the very bizarre The Beach) he has the skill to never quite fall over the line. His films have always celebrated a kind of magical realism, whether it be through visions of dead babies climbing on the ceiling, manifestations of Hindu gods, or visions of patron saints.

Really, the only fairly bland entry in his diverse filmography is A Life Less Ordinary, the one time Boyle attempted to make (essentially) a typical Hollywood romantic comedy, casting Cameron Diaz in the lead, an actress who might as well change her name to 'we've run out of ideas' at this point.

Boyle needs to take risks. He needs to indulge his inner schoolboy and let his imagination run wild to keep himself engaged in the process. He'll never really fit in among mainstream Hollywood because of it, and I really hope he doesn't try.


Listen, I don't want to like out myself here as cold hearted but I really cannot stand children in movies about 90% of the time. Every time I see a trailer for a movie starring Jayden Smith or Connor Cruise, I can practically smell the contract negotiations and Caesar Salads eaten by lawyers and publicists in development meetings. I was really happy with the kids in this movie. A LOT of this movie relies on the performances of the kids playing the younger versions of the film's 3 main characters, and (as Boyle has proven before) Boyle knows how to direct children. The kids are cute, without being precocious. The kids are skilled, without feeling unbelievably over rehearsed and hollow.

Dev Patel is, as many have already noted, charming as Jamal, and Frieda Pinto is likeable, sweet, and really knows how to look alluring in lots of yellow, but if I were to single out one performance, I would probably highlight Madhur Mittal's work as the adult version of Jamal's older brother, Salim. With what probably amounts to no more than a maximum of 10 minutes of screen time, Mittal makes a pretty distinct impression that should be getting a lot more press.

Slumdog Millionaire is a really interestingly and beautifully realized Dickensian fable that only a maniac like Danny Boyle could have directed.

Oh . . . and my co worker has a theory that anyone who walks out before the credits sequence is over has no soul. He may be right.

(Yes, I'm rooting for it come Oscar time)

"Trial by twelve good men and true . . . It's a sound system."

This post is a part of J.D. at Valley Dreaming's 2nd Annual Endings Blog-A-Thon.

(There's spoilers. No duh.)

It's a testament to the quality of Sidney Lumet's cinematic output of the 1970s that he was able to amass a cast of celebrated actors like Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller, John Gielgud, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, and Alfred Finney to star in Murder on the Orient Express for what must have been a much lower salary than usual. However he managed to get them all under one roof, I'm glad that he did.

Probably my favorite aspect of Murder on the Orient Express is the last scene in which Albert Finney is called upon to deliver what is essentially an 8 page long monologue that sums up the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Ratchet and stages a depiction of how all the passengers played a part in the crime.

The scene calls for Finney to explain every detail of the case and essentially carry a good portion of the film on his shoulders, and he does it amazingly well. I love this film, and I love this ending. See it if you haven't. You're unlikely to find a more entertaining example of classic Hollywood glamour and stardom at its best.

28 December 2008

Hollywood's New Year's Resolution #4

Finally start making movies about World War 2.

27 December 2008

Hollywood's New Year's Resolution #3

Deus ex jellyfish: figure out what it is and how to exploit its power in more films.

Hollywood's New Year's Resolution #2

Start making movies targeted to women. Quality isn't necessarily an issue.

Hollywood's New Year's Resolution #1

When in doubt, always cast Irrfan Khan as the authoritarian figure if the film is set in India or the Middle East.

23 December 2008

I'm developing a major crush on Dev Patel . . .

I just saw Slumdog Millionaire (review coming soon), and I am helpless to resist his charming goofiness

It CAN'T be just me . . . can it?

Just pimping out some great Italian music to all you Westerners

21 December 2008

A Boy and His Toys: Doubt (2008)

The best thing to be said about Doubt is it IS a believable film. As much as I enjoyed Proof (and specifically Gwyneth Paltrow's performace in it), that was a movie that was very clearly adapted from a play. The acting was larger than the medium of film should normally contain, and the script made no attempt to tone down the dialog for an audience not sitting in the nosebleed section. Doubt, on the other hand, feels like a film. Yes, the acting is bombastic, and the script is monologue heavy, but Shanley managed to fit his script into a setting that could contain it and give it a cinematic quality.

Meryl Streep, admittedly bringing to mind a stern Mother Goose in certain scenes, plays the stern Sister Aloysius with skill and relish, injecting some wry humor into an otherwise stony woman. She gets to exercise her flair for accents once again, but doesn't overdo it by overstressing it. Better to just committ to the humanity of the character and let the vocal specifics follow. As an actress, she almost always raises the bar high, and doesn't disappoint in this film.

The other actors are more than up to the challenge. It is difficult, in this day and age, for an audience not to automatically assume the guilt of a priest, so it is to the credit of both the script and the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman that the film manages to mantain a level of the titular doubt while still hinting at a level of creepy intensity simmering below the surface. Viola Davis, in her one scene, stands toe to toe with Meryl Streep, more than justifying the buzz that has followed her since the film was announced. I GUESS I can understand why Amy Adams is being highlighted as the weakest link, but I personally found the way she managed to underline her usual cheerful mousiness with a level of melancholy to be fairly impressive.

AND THANK GOD AMY ADAMS GOT THE ROLE OVER RUMORED NATALIE PORTMAN! As much as I've liked her in other things, the last thing this film needed was a quirky, vegan version of Sister James to twitch and empower herself all over the place. Sister James requires an actress willing to embrace an inner meekness, willing to stand in the shadow of her co stars and say more with her silence than any grand scene.

The main problem with Doubt, then, is the direction. Specifically, there is far far too much of it.

You can tell John Patrick Shanley's been dying to get behind a camera and make a movie ever since 1995's Joe Versus the Volcano. And make a movie he certainly did, using just about every camera trick and symbolic angle placement he thought up in his 13 year break. He tilts the camera at strange angles, shoots characters from above and below, and pans past numerous lines of hymn-singing children.

I'm not sure Shanley had a reason for a lot of these decisions other than his desire to 'get creative.' The problem? Creativity only really works when it's not detracting attention from the central story and characters. It's hard to pay attention to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams sharing a dramatic moment when you randomly cut to shots peering up from the ground an up into their nostrils. It just is.

Doubt is not a bad movie, certainly, but one that could have benefited from a fresh set of eyes.

18 December 2008

Matthew Goode is kind of a big deal

Oh, I met Matthew Goode this summer! Don't really know why I neglected to mention that . . .

SAG Thursday

The SAG Award nominations were announced this morning, and (in what has been up until now such a confusing and mostly unpredictable season) things got just a little bit clearer. There will always be last minute surprises, but the Screen Actors Guild did give us some indication of how things are shaping up.

Best Ensemble
And the nominees are:
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The omission of Revolutionary Road here and in other categories really makes this a two way race for Best Picture between Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. I think the winner will be determined by how far along the inevitable Slumdog backlash is by the time voting ends. Either way, the fact it was able to get in with a cast whose most famous member was the comic relief on a British teen drama is kind of remarkable, especially since it beat out star heavy ensemble films like Rachel Getting Married and The Reader. Don't expect it to win, though.

Winner?: My pick would be Milk, but I'd say the smart money is on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is full of very industry-popular actors.

Best Actor
And the nominees are:
Richard Jenkins- The Visitor
Brad Pitt- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frank Langella- Frost / Nixon
Sean Penn- Milk
Mickey Rourke- The Wrestler
Probably the biggest blow to Revolutionary Road is Leonardo DiCaprio's failure to get in here. It's not exactly a huge surprise, but the film really needed him to start gaining traction if it hoped to do as well as people thought it would earlier this year. Other than Brad Pitt, who I can't imagine making it to an Oscar nod (thought who knows for sure?), I'd say this is the usual suspects. Very nice to see Richard Jenkins continuing to build momentum for a performance I thought no one would remember but should.

Winner?: Sean Penn still has the momentum, and I don't think it's going to stop with the Screen Actor's Guild. Langella is a looming threat, however.

Best Actress
And the nominees are:
Anne Hathaway- Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie- Changeling
Melissa Leo- Frozen River
Meryl Streep- Doubt
Kate Winslet- Revolutionary Road
It's sad not to see Sally Hawkins or Kristin Scott Thomas here, and it's looking more and more like only one of them is going to make it. My money's on Hawkins whose been winning most of the critics' prizes thus far. This Oscar, though, is Kate Winslet's to lose, almost by default. She's long overdue, and the other contenders don't exactly have a lot of excitement behind them. Bride Wars is opening next month, so Anne Hathaway might want to hold up on writing that speech and just go find a pretty gown. She'll be in the building but probably not called to the stage.

Winner?: This is looking like more and more like Winslet's year to win the Oscar but never underestimate how much other actors love Meryl Streep. But I'm gonna go out on a limb and say if any category at the SAGs surprises, it'll be this one (cross your fingers Leo).

Best Supporting Actor
And the nominees are:
Josh Brolin- Milk
Robert Downey Jr.- Tropic Thunder
Dev Patel- Slumdog Millionaire
Phillip Seymour Hoffman- Doubt
Heath Ledger- The Dark Knight
Well, thank god that inexplicable Tom Cruise express didn't go anywhere after the Golden Globes nod. I'm sad not to see James Franco here, because it's looking less and less likely that he'll get in come Oscar time (even though, frankly, I'd rather see Hirsch nominated from Milk over Franco and Brolin). At this point, all but Patel seem pretty much assured nominations come January, and his chances have been given a large boost recently. If Slumdog Millionaire is as popular come Oscar time as it is now, he could very well find himself among the nominees. Oh, and I guess we're saying goodbye to Michael Shannon this season . . .

Winner?: Do you even need to ask?

Best Supporting Actress
And the nominees are:
Amy Adams- Doubt
Penélope Cruz- Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis- Doubt
Taraji P. Henson- The Curious Case of Benjamin Butto
Kate Winslet- The Reader
Despite flying way under the radar this entire season, Amy Adams keeps getting nominations at this late stage in the game. It's hard for me to imagine her getting an Oscar nod, but if Doubt does really well, I suppose she could sneak in with it. Still, I don't see her landing at #1 on people's ballots, especially with a co star overshadowing her. I think both Tomei and DeWitt have a shot at her place. Otherwise, this looks like our line up (although Henson isn't a lock by any means).

Winner?: Cruz has the momentum this year, but Davis' scene stealing turn is the kind of thing they sometimes like to honor in this category (i.e. Ruby Dee last year).

New poll on the sidebar

And whoever just voted for Joseph Cross (if they were being serious) is my hero. I've already discussed how wonderfully his pants fit him in that movie.

UPDATE: Someone voted for Diego Luna. Interesting . . . Otherwise, 3 way tie!

17 December 2008

Speaking of something that wasn't funny . . .

I'm sorry. I don't want to keep pointing out that emperor doesn't have any clothes on, but Tom Cruizzz's cameo in Tropic Thunder was (outside of his first scene) actually pretty excrutiating.

It's pretty sad this year to see the once unstoppable Jerry Maguire having to embarrass himself by dancing to whatever trashy rap song it was in a rather mediocre Ben Stiller film just to get people to forget how crazy he is and come back onto Letterman and the Today Show with his tail between his legs so people will go see a movie about Germans with American accents trying to assassinate Hitler.

But, really, there's no reason to get self-righteous about the Golden Globes. There were dozens of people who should've made it in over him, but they didn't. The best we can all hope for is that he doesn't win.

12 December 2008

I Drink Your 'MILK'-shake (2008)

Sometimes, it's best to just come out and admit that you can't be 100% objective about a film, and as much as I'd like to be able to analyze Milk on a purely intellectual level, I really can't. Here is a film perfectly suited to its time and place. Here is a film that speaks to the anger, the drive, and the hope for something better. Here's a film that makes you want to act, makes you want to do SOMETHING.

That's not to say their isn't a level of technical achievement present, because there certainly is. Gus Van Sant quite successfully blends news and archived footage into the narrative that grounds the film in its time and place. Aided by a screenplay written by Dustin Lance Black, he does a great job of setting the film amidst the backdrop of the 1970s San Francisco without having to resort to clunky asides or random historical references. Milk is set in the past, but it feels as present as if it were set in 2008.

I haven't always been the biggest fan of Sean Penn, but this is an undoubtedly great performance. Similar to Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, Harvey Milk is a character who could come off overly cheery or mannered in the hands of an actor who isn't completely committed to the humanity at the heart of the person. He spends a great deal of the film surrounded by much younger actors, but the youthful vibrancy and charm he uses in the performance make it easy to believe so many people would be drawn to and inspired by him.

If, perhaps, the film as a whole does not flesh out these surrounding characters as much as the man himself, Van Sant was smart enough to fill Milk with a skilled ensemble that is more than up to the task. Josh Brolin, in a role largely absent from the film's first half that still looms tall over the film's narrative, is given the difficult task of hinting at the psychology behind Dan White's actions without ever being given a scene to verbalize them. And though I'm not quite sure I completely bought his drunken tirade near the film's end, it's great to see him continue to his string of impressive performances. I was similarly impressed with James Franco and Emile Hirsch who never get lost amongst the film's sprawling cast. Diego Luna is, I know, taking some flack for his performance, but I don't think there was anyway to win a character like that. And in a performance that I've heard NO ONE talk about, Alison Pill has a memorable turn as Harvey's campaign manager and delivers a small, poignant moment in her last shot of the film that really struck a chord with me.

And speaking of great ensembles . . .

There was a lot of '70s era hotness going on in this movie. Like, not only did we get lots of James Franco's midriff and a brief look at his ass, but Emile Hirsch was rocking those tight bell bottoms, and whatever costume designer was painting those slacks onto Joseph Cross every morning did a bang up job. A job I'd very much like to have.

Anyway . . . what was I saying? Right.

Milk is up-lifting, funny, tragic, and couldn't have come at a more prescient time. Does it get overly cute and literal in parts? Sure (I'm speaking specifically of a pair of phone calls he receives from a young teen and an opera metaphor). But did those moments get to me? You betcha. As the last scene unrolled and an endless line of candles filled the San Francisco streets, I knew the film had me.

If a film can work (at least for me) on such a visceral level, somebody is doing something right.

07 December 2008

Dear Zachary (2008)

In 2001, Dr. Andrew Bagby was found murdered and suspicion immediately fell on his ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner, whose inconsistent stories to the police made her the chief suspect in the crime. The sequence of events that followed (some of which director Kurt Kuenne documents as they occur) were beyond even the worst nightmares of his family, friends, and colleagues.

But to say the facts of the case make up the bulk of the film would be a misnomer.

The body of the film is the result of Kuenne's cross country (and cross Atlantic) trip to interview anyone who came into contact with Andrew, his childhood friend. It's an interesting thing to see so many people working through their grief, expressing it in different ways. Most affecting are the interviews with Andrew's parents whose lives are tied up in the legal and personal dramas that unfold around the trial. In the end, this film becomes as much about their dedication and resiliency as it does about their son.

Dear Zachary
is a tricky film to review because so much of what's wonderful about it is indescribable to somebody who hasn't seen it. It's a raw, angry, passionate, overwhelming, sweet, heart breaking tearjerker of a documentary, and so much of it's power comes from developments Kuenne had no control over, though it would be wrong to say that nobody saw them coming. The audience is introduced to revelations in the same way as every one interviewed for the film.

This is not an extremely polished film, but Dear Zachary wouldn't feel as emotionally honest as it does had it been so. The film is almost a home movie and, perhaps, would have been so had the story of Bagby family proceeded differently. It is a gripping, powerful movie and is easily amongst the best films of the year.

Sometimes a film doesn't need a shiny polish if it's got a beautiful heart.