Monday, December 31, 2012

Most Memorable Movie Scenes of 2012

What makes a movie scene memorable? A recognized reflection; an image that moves you; a witty and smart line of dialogue. Sometimes you get all in one scene. Sometimes a scene encapsulates the movie or it can stand out separately and still be memorable.Sometimes it can be a performance or a piece of music that sticks in the mind. Here are few of my most memorable scenes from 2012 movies in no particular order.


Setup: A mother, two daughters and a grandson sit down to have dinner. The mother tries to start a conversation. The daughters would rather not reveal anything honest. Years of resentment, avoidance, unhappiness, disappointment come crashing down.

Why: In one very economic scene the dynamics and history of this family are revealed. You understand tons about these characters. The scene reflects eloquently any family that sometimes is unable to connect.


Setup : It doesn't matter. There's a man, there's an accordion. Several other men with accordions appear. It becomes a parade.

Why : It's a jolting haunting beautiful scene in a movie full of very eccentric scenes. Even if you don't care much for the movie, this one sticks with you. Fanfuckingtastic!


Setup : A woman recovering from losing her legs in a horrific accident tries to remember and heal. Katy Perry starts blaring.

Why : Because of the emotional punch Marion Cotillard throws at you. You feel it in your gut.


Setup : A few male strippers gather in a gym to workout. A seasoned stripper teaches the new kid a few moves.

Why : Because Matthew McConaughey looks fantastic and acts the hell out of the scene. Years of his sometimes charming, sometimes puzzling public persona has lead to this moment. He emerges a great character actor and a star for the ages.


Setup : A few members of the Russian aristocracy gather at the races. A horse falls down. A woman screams with concern for her lover. Her husband watches.

Why : It is unlike anything else we've seen at the movies this year. Joe Wright's choice to film the whole movie inside a theater comes to bright vivid life in this scene. He builds the tension; is Vronsky OK? What will Anna do? How will Karenin react? The visuals are sumptuous and the emotions heightened.


Setup: Mission accomplished, time to leave the mission site. A lonely hunter boards a plane. Tears stream down her face.

Why : We don't know why Maya is crying. Is it relief? Is it sadness? Does she feel lost? Not knowing what to do next with her life? We don't know and the questions are what makes the scene moving and memorable.


Setup : The sex therapist and her patient finish a session. As they are saying goodbye they both discover the emotional bond that grew between them. They decide to end the sessions. The therapist has a breakdown in her car.

Why : The emotional honesty of the scene. The way Helen Hunt plays it is moving and cathartic. You see all these feelings on her face as she starts crying alone in her car. She is at once happy, sad and grateful. Happy for her patient's breakthrough, sad because she will miss him in her life, grateful to have had the experience.

What were some of your most memorable scenes? Do you agree with these choices? I would love to hear from you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review - Les Miserables

Let's just get it out of the way, Anne Hathaway is the main reason to see Les Miserables. More importantly she is the only reason to love the movie. Her performance is emotional, pierces your heart deeply and might well up the tears. She doesn't shy away from going big with the emotion ; it is a musical after all. It's exactly the kind of performance people who love musicals are looking for. She delivers.

Now I wish the rest the movie delivered as well as Hathaway did. It had all the elements : the beloved musical full of big numbers known the world over, an acclaimed director (Tom Hooper) coming off a big Oscar win; fantastic cast led by musical theater vet Hugh Jackman. The movie has a lot of virtues but it is not the fantastic musical it promised to be.

The movie starts strong, bringing chills and flutters as you hear that bombastic store and the camera pans over the huge shipyard and comes to pinpoint Jean Valjean (Jackman) and Javert (Russell Crowe) the hero and antagonist of the piece. Brilliant set up from Hooper, and he carries these panoramic views that open the action to some of the set pieces giving them epic grandeur. Curiously the only songs he shoots this way are Crowe's. All the others are shot in extreme close up. I get that he wanted to differentiate the movie from the play by highlighting the actors emotional work, but it doesn't work for every number. It works with Hathaway's ''I Dreamed A Dream'' since that song is about Fantine being at the end of the rope and feeling hopeless, trapped and alone so the the claustrophobia works. But why shoot Eddie Redmayne's ''Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'' this way when it's a song about Marius looking at where he and his friends used to sit and argue? Literally why not show the empty chairs and empty tables instead of just Redmayne's bee stung lips?

Jackman and Hathaway

Jackman carries this and as he goes so does the movie. He brings a tenderness and fragility to the performance that makes it endearing. However his singing came off flat. He did not accomplish full lift off with the emotion. "Bring Him Home", his big number, particularly suffers from this. I hardly noticed it. His duet with Hathaway in "Finale'' though is amazing and made me wish there was more of the two of them together.

Samantha Barks, the newcomer and only member of the cast to have played her role on stage, sings beautifully. However she does not have much screen presence making Eponine forgettable despite her screen time. Amanda Seyfried does the best she could with the thankless role of Cosette but does not have any chemistry with Redmayne. The fault is not theirs but the plot's since we are supposed to take for granted that they fall deep in love on first sight and that love is supposed to carry the second half of the movie. Redmayne on the other hand was my big revelation from the movie. He has a great voice and gives it his all , faring well particularly in his scenes with his revolutionary comrades. The less said about Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter the better. They stuck out with their very broad characterizations that didn't belong in this movie. Was this what Hooper intended? Bonham Carter is the major offender with her atrocious singing and Tim Burton make up.

Crowe and Jackman

Crowe was another major surprise. That he brings pathos and gravitas to his villain are no surprise. But who knew he could belt out with such gusto making us completely understand his conflicted righteous character. I think the dismissive chatter about his performance is because he does not do well with the sung dialogue, his voice comes out as off tune in those instances. However he completely sold his two big numbers.

If you are a fan of the musical you will love this movie version. However if you are unfamiliar with it, you might go ''huh?"' several times. There are plot gaps as they had to get the movie in under three hours. The rebellion is front and center then forgotten, the jump between the years is sometimes jarring and might confuse some. The never ending close ups might give you vertigo.  However there is enough emotion to carry you through.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Impossible - Scariest Time at the Movies

If you've been to the movies in the last couple of months chances are you've seen the trailer for The Impossible. You know pretty people on vacation, the tsunami hits, nature at its worst, tears, screaming. The most manipulative sentimental crap ever. It dared me not to tear up. Forget about that; the actual movie is very good, and while I cried many times it was not manipulative at all but rather a sobering horror story about the dark side of nature and human connection and survival.

The film tells the true story of one European family of five during the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand. They are British in the movie although Spanish in real life, as is the director J A Bayona (The Orphanage). The set up from the family plane trip to Thailand until the waves hit is intense and scary using horror genre techniques to get you on edge of your seat. Bayona builds up the tension using every trick in the book; the plane turbulence, the distant rumbling sounds of the waves - all serve as ominous signs for the horrors we are about to see. The immediate aftermath is also depicted effectively particularly the confusion, panic and disoreintation and the very horrific loneliness of separated people against nature.

Bayona has several tricks up his sleeve to keep us entertained and scared. There is a thrilling set up piece in the hospital as the separated family members search for each other. Another is a subplot about a young lost boy found by the family that pays off in a major way both emotionally and as an engrossing plot device.

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents and Tom Holland is the oldest son. All three dig deep to expose how fragile we all are in the face of nature. Watts' character suffers the most both physically and emotionally. The physical part was very hard to look at; her body is battered, bruised and purple all over. However she is magnificent at portraying pain, anguish, resilience and utter and complete fear without resorting to sentimentality. I was mesmerized whenever she was on screen.

McGregor gives a fully emotional performance;only a hardened soul would not be moved by his break down scene. It is particularly effective because men are never really given a chance to get this emotional in movies. If George Clooney almost won an Oscar for one lousy tear in The Descendants, McGregor should get some hardware for this performance too.

Holland acts the audience surrogate and we are with him every step of the way. And what a harrowing journey it is. But it's also a very human experience as we watch the young man mature and understand what's important in life.

Some people may have issue with the movie concentrating on one family's story when the devastation was all consuming. Particularly because said family is white. It's not an issue since the movie does not pretend to be anything but this one family's amazing story of survival. Yes there are millions of similar human stories that happened during the Tsunami and maybe one day we'll see some of them on screen. And if we are lucky maybe one will be from a Thai filmmaker.

The movie works because of the performances and the genre elements that keep the viewer engaged. Because this disaster was felt in every corner of the world, there might be expectations put on the movie to tell a grander story. It does not but what it tells is interesting and moving.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Heiress and Jessica Chastain

Chastain as Catherine Sloper

Last night I saw the Broadway revival of The Heiress starring Jessica Chastain. In it she plays Catherine Sloper a spinterish dweller of Washington Square in New York in the 1850s. The play tells the story of her courtship by a handsome drifter and her father's opposition to said courtship. The parable is about whether Catherine is being courted for love or for her inheritance.

I was very excited to see The Heiress, mostly because it stars "'actor of the moment'' Chastain. I chose it as the one play to see this season. The 1948 film with Olivia De Havilland and Monty Clift is a devastating piece that shook me with its portrayal of familial cruelty.I was expecting another emotional roller-coaster. I guess with a setup like that I was bound to be disappointed.

But boy what a disappointment. Chastain was flat and unengaging when she needed to soar.First off she was miscast as the dowdy plain Catherine Sloper - her beauty could not be hidden behind the brown wig and 19th century costumes. She overcompensated by playing the awkward Sloper as too goofy, even getting close to physical comedy in the first act. Her voice did not project at all and came off timid and hesitant even at the end when the character is supposed to have grown and found strength. It's a pity because Catherine is a great part that if played well gives the audience a huge wallop of emotion. I kept imagining what Cate Blanchett could have done with it.

Strathairn and Ivey on opening night

The rest of the cast acquitted themselves well. David Strathairn started slow but found his groove quickly as Catherine's emotionally abusive father. Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey, was serviceable. His American accent was good but I guess he concentrated too much on getting it right sometimes he forgot he had a part to play. The MVP was without a doubt Judith Ivey as Catherine's eccentric and romantic aunt who tries to bring the lovers together. She was everything Chastain wasn't - lively, present, funny, drawing and holding the audience's attention. If there was a star on that stage it was Ivey.

Finally Virginia Kull, an actress I have never heard of before, had a tiny part as the Slopers' maid. And boy did she make the best of it. Every little moment she had she made sure we were very aware of her. Her ambition to be noticed came through loud and clear. I loved her.I joked with my friends afterwards that if she was Chastain's understudy I bet she go ''all about Eve'" one night and make sure she gets to play the lead!

Oscar Bits and Pieces - Best Actor

We've talked Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor before lets now talk Best Actor, or as its known this year The Daniel Day Lewis doesn't have enough Oscars Admiration Society. I like Day Lewis, I think he's a great actor, loved him in almost every movie he made, but is it really time to reward him again? Specially since AMPAS let Meryl wait 29 years to win a third. Come on spread the wealth.

Day Lewis

Day Lewis is great as Lincoln. It is a heartfelt, subtle performance that is commanding without demanding our attention. I don't know this for sure since I've never heard Lincoln or seen him except in photos; but I'm willing to bet he looks and sounds exactly like him. That's because I believe Day Lewis did the research and almost certainly got everything right.When I saw the movie the performance reminded me of his performance in The Age of Innocence; another subdued turn that was immensely affecting.

Can anyone beat him? For a while I thought maybe John Hawkes in The Sessions could do it. He hits all the academy's soft spots : biopic, disability, previous recent nominee. Plus he's giving a great performance in a really good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. He could have rested on the trappings of "suffering for his art"but he added lots of humor and pathos to the performance making it a wonder to behold. Alas while he's guaranteed a nomination that movie has not struck a major chord with audiences so he's not a real threat to Day Lewis.


I was hoping Hugh Jackman would pull such a wallop of an emotional punch as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables that he'd be the one to beat. I haven't seen the movie yet so can't tell but the reviews so far are only so so for the movie. Still the movie hasn't opened yet; if it becomes a blockbuster and Jackman is all what people are talking about in January we might have a race.

Denzel Washington in Flight and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook are the other two actors that made all the important precursors including SAG. These five seem to be now the most likely nominees. I liked Washington's performance but wasn't sold on the movie. Apart from the truly amazing crash scene I thought it was pretty mediocre. Cooper's approximation of crazy grew on me. First time I saw it I found it annoying but second time I enjoyed his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence and the manic energy he constantly brought to his character. He has a scene where he senses that he's slipping away into his head and brings it back in refusing to succumb - that sold me on the performance.


There are 3 performances in French movies this year that knocked off my socks. With Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone I finally understood what everybody's been talking about all these years when they mentioned Brando's performance in Streetcar. He has a ferocity and immediacy of emotion that is both sexy and dangerous and announces the birth of a major movie star.Jean Louis Trintignant in Amour is amazing as well although the emotion there is more reserved but not less strong. Somehow the two are overshadowed by their female co-stars, at least in the eyes of award voters.

The third great performance from a French film is Denis Levant in Holy Motors. While I recognized the artistry and mad storytelling skills that went into making the movie, it didn't really register with me. However there is no denying that Levant gives a virtuoso performance full of audacity and perverse humor. He also inhabits several characters with complete makeovers. None of the three will find traction with Oscar.


Other names in the conversation include Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch ( fantastic), Richard Gere in Arbitrage (haven't seen it) and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. At the beginning of the season Phoenix was a shoo-in and possibly the front runner; now he's on the periphery. He might still get in as the performance has its advocates. I for one hated it. It is is a big "LOOK AT ME I'M ACTING" performance. He contorts his body, throws himself around, stops and gestures before saying anything. Hey Joaquin are you competing in some thespian Olympics we don't know about? Give him all the gold medals now! The film itself is polarizing and was not embraced by audiences although most critics loved it. I was left very cold by it. There's stuff to admire - cinematography, music and production design are all top notch - but the sum doesn't add up.

Predicted Five : Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day Lewis, John Hawkes, Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Crazy Early Oscar Predictions

A week before Christmas here is who I think will win Oscar in the acting categories. It's crazy and early but it looks this way to me now. Although I should not predict winners before nominations.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Friday, December 14, 2012

I'm So Excited!

All About My Mother 

Few filmmakers make me giddy with anticipation as much as Pedro Almodovar. I came late to the Pedro party, my first was All about My Mother in 1999. But since then I went back and have watched all his movies. Still Todo Sobre Mi Madre remains my favorite. Nothing beats the combination of All About Eve & Streetcar tribute plus the huge love for women in general and actresses in particular that that movie has.

Today we celebrate the teaser trailer of his next movie I'm so excited. Its perfect. And perfectly soundtracked with the Pointer Sisters giddy 80s hit. Enjoy!

What is your favorite Almodovar? Tell all about that in the comments.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reactions to New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Zero Dark Thirty

The first Awards body of the season announced today. The New York Film Critics Circle.   Here is what they chose and my reactions :

FILM Zero Dark Thirty 
DIRECTOR Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty
Haven't seen it yet but happy for Bigelow. The Hurt Locker is the best war movie and can't wait for the follow up. Winning Best Pic 3 years ago was the only time my favorite movie of the year won.

ACTRESS Rachel WeiszThe Deep Blue Sea

Surprise, surprise. I like that this opens up the already very open Best Actress field. Weisz was excellent in The Deep Blue Sea, and judging from my twitter feed has many fans. But come on Emmanuelle Riva is the best thing at the movies this year bar none.

ACTOR Daniel Day LewisLincoln
Lets hope this is not the start of a sweep. It would be very boring if Day Lewis just keeps wining. Although it looks inevitable. He was great in Lincoln, and understated and funny and totally uncanny so I'm not complaining.

Wowza. Another surprise although smaller. I was totally in the contingent that Anne Hathaway was going to sweep for Les Miserables. I like that they threw a wrench in that narrative. Sally was over the top I think in Lincoln. I get that she was playing crazy but I can't figure out if I like the performance or not. Her crazy to DDL's understatement I don't think entirely jelled. Obviously NYFCC doesn't agree with me.

SUPPORTING ACTOR Matthew McConaughey for Bernie and Magic Mike
My fave award. McConaughey deserves it for his landmark year and great turn in Magic Mike. Haven't seen Bernie. I hope this fires up his Oscar campaign and he gets noticed. I'm predicting him.

ANIMATED FILM Frankenweenie
Haven't seen it. Haven't seen any animated movies. I know.

DOCUMENTARY The Central Park Five

No comment, again haven't seen it. 


I'm OK with Amour sweeping a la A Separation last year. It's fantastic. First Haneke movie that I love. I can't shake it 2 months after seeing it. Masterpiece.

FIRST FILM David France for How to Survive a Plague 

SCREENPLAY Tony Kushner, Lincoln

They liked Lincoln. They really liked Lincoln.

CINEMATOGRAPHY Greig Fraser for Zero Dark Thirty 
And they liked Zero Dark Thirty. 3 awards each.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Welcome Back Cate

At Hobbit Red Carpet
in Wellington

After taking off a few years to run the Sydney Theatre Company Cate Blanchett is back to movies with a vengeance. She graced the red carpet in New Zealand this week for the Hobbit premiere as news of her next project were unveiled.

I don't think The Hobbit is worthy of her talents. The role is probably a cameo anyway. But at least we will get to see her on the red carpet during the promotional blitz.

I'm more excited by the other movies she shot this year and are coming out in 2013. She stars in the latest Woody Allen and is in not one but two movies from Terrence Malick. The latter is notorious for completely cutting off some actors from his movies. I am betting he will not cut Cate the Great!

That next project is a live action Cinderella where she will play the evil stepmother. Never Let Me Go director Mark Romanek is at the helm. Hanna co-star Saoirse Ronan is among the young actresses being considered for the title role.

This should be a fun exciting blockbuster for Cate. She follows Charlize and Angelina in playing the villain in a live action version of a fairy tale.

She also has two other movies scheduled to shoot in 2013. A lesbian love story with Mia Wasikowska called Carol, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. And she's in the ensemble of George Clooney's next directorial project, The Monuments Men, along with Daniel Craig, Jean Dujardin and Bill Murray.

I leave you with one of my favorite Cate moments. Elizabeth:The Golden Age was so much less than the original Elizabeth. But the "'I too can command the wind, Sir"is such an usually hammy and over the top moment from this subtle actress that i just love it. Watch for yourself below.

Oscar Bits and Pieces - Best Supporting Actor

I've tackled my favorite Oscar category, Best Actress, first. Now it's time to tackle my least favorite acting category, Best Supporting Actor. Sometimes I just don't understand the nominations in this category. A particularly egregious year was 2 years ago when a bland Matt Damon in Invitcus and Stanley Tucci for a hammy villain in The Lovely Bones (same year he was so wonderful in Julie and Julia) were nominated. It is also a category that has managed to snub one of my favorite actors, Peter Sarsgaard 3 times (Shattered Glass, Kinsey and An Education). But it had produced a few excellent winners recently; can't complain about Plummer, Waltz and Ledger.

Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln 

This year more than ever this category is confusing me. There are very few performances that I really like, what's being bandied about as potential nominees doesn't seem substantial or particularly interesting to me. The one I whole heartedly endorse without a doubt is Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. While he is doing Tommy Lee, he does it so well. He gets a lot of funny grandstanding speeches, gets to make fun of his rivals but above all he is the one character in the movie whose personal emotional connection to the historical events felt vital and real.

In the past I did not particularly like many of Philip Seymour Hoffman's performances. He was so obviously a child molester in Doubt; when we were not supposed to really know. Too over the top in Charlie Wilson's War. However I was pleasantly surprised at how understated he was in The Master. He was my favorite thing in what I thought was an over-wrought pretentious film. Won't be on my ballot but I can see why he will be nominated.

Goodman and Arkin in Argo

Alan Arkin is very funny in Argo. He has a few very funny lines and gets to deliver that movie's catch phrase - Argo fuck yourself. But that's what is considered best of year? It's a tiny role and he wasn't in the movie enough. A tinier role in Argo is John Goodman's. He has another tiny role in Flight. He is very good, funny and liekable in both. Maybe combined they'd make one substantial role. Will he get in or split his votes?

Everyone is over the moon for Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook. Look the man is a legend and I'm happy he is getting all this acclaim and awards buzz after years of unremarkable movies. What seals the nomination for him is a very emotional moment where makes a connection with his son and even gets to tear up. So obviously an Oscar clip and he nails it and assures his name will be called.

No one knows anything yet about Leo DiCaprio's performance in Django Unchained. But we know that Quentin Tarantino writes delicious villians and has a particularly good history in this category - Sam Jackson, Robert Forrester and Christoph Waltz nominated and Waltz won. Could he produce two nominees from Django? Jackson's in it too.

Eddie Redmayne in Les Miserables

And what about Les Miserables? Early word is that Russell Crowe acquits himself well, Sacha Baron Cohen is funny and Eddie Redmayne is a revelation. Of these I'd give Redmayne the edge because "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is such an emotional song, comes almost the end of the movie so it will be fresh in memories. But then again he's playing the romantic lead and this category usually favors oddballs and villains.

A couple of excellent performances are quickly losing steam. Michael Fassbender was very good in the uneven Prometheus but it seems the summer release has been forgotten. Dwight Henry is excellent in his debut in Beasts of the Southern Wild. He also has an excellent backstory; he was a baker discovered and given this big chance. But he missed on a Spirit Award nomination.

Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike

I haven't seen The Impossible yet but love Ewan McGregor. Could he finally get his first nomination? He has a lot of famous backers; Angelina Jolie hosted a screening in his honor. Also hoping for his first nomination is Matthew McConaughey after a landmark year in which he starred in three critically acclaimed roles in Bernie, Magic Mike and Bernie. Those 3 movies completely changed public perception of him and he could get nominated for Magic Mike.

Jude Law as Karenin

The performance that I truly loved and hope it gets noticed is Jude Law in Anna Karenina.This Joe Wright version really loves Karenin and Jude Law, in a warm quiet and introspective performance, shows the dull pull of duty and the unrelenting dogged pursuit of what's right. It's a great turn and so different than anything he has done before. The film's divisive reviews and so-so box office work against him though and he's unlikely to get mentioned.

For my final predictions I think Jones, Hoffman and DeNiro are definitely in. I'm struggling wit the last 2. I just don't see Goodman or Arkin getting nominated because their roles are tiny. McConaughey is campaigning hard and could benefit from an assured Globe nom. Redmayne is sounding stronger and stronger as people leave Les Miz discovering him. I reserve the right to change my mind as I/m still puzzled by this category.

Predicted Five : Tommy Lee Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Matthew McConaughey and Eddie Redmayne.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trying to forge away from Middle of Nowhere

Hardwick and Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere

There is a scene in Middle of Nowhere where a mother and her two daughters sit down to have a meal and try to communicate. Years of despair and disappointment come bubbling to the surface and amicable family conversation can not be reached. The authenticity of this sad situation gobsmacked me in the face and I knew I was watching a great movie.

The film tells the story of Ruby (luminous Emayatzy Corinealdi) an LA nurse who works double shifts to live and pay the legal bills of her incarcerated husband (Omari Hardwick). It's also the story of her single mother sister (Edwina Findley), their mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and a bus driver ( David Oyelowo) who is sweet on Ruby. But mostly it's Ruby's story, how she came to where she is - giving up medical school to wait for her husband. And where she is going - can she make the choice to break free? It's not a love triangle but rather an exploration of stunted woman's choice to either go on or leading a semi life or make the choice to try for something better and scarier.

Writer director Ava DuVernay

The movie is the brain child of Ava DuVernay, who wrote, directed and even released the movie. She became the first African-American woman to win Best Director when the film debuted earlier this at the Sundance Film Festival. Hers is a major accomplishment - a quiet well observed and introspective screenplay. We get to spend a few weeks with these characters and their experiences jumped out to me as relateable and recognizable. While the movie takes painstaking lengths to get the experiences of women of incarcerated men right; to me it was more than just that one story.

As a director DuVernay coaxes out wonderful performances from her cast. Corinealdi is a real find. Ruby is a very quiet woman and Corinealdi imbues her with intelligence and world weariness but also makes you see the playful ingenue she can be or maybe was at some point. Another standout is Toussaint who is excellent at conveying years of disappointment with just a few looks. If there is a weak link it's Findley. It is as if she was in another movie that is not as good as the one I'm watching.

The story behind how DuVernay became a filmmaker and distributed her own movie is almost as fascinating as the story she presents onscreen. She used to be a publicist, then financed her first movie using $50,000 of her own savings. She formed a releasing company to ensure that her movie reaches black audiences who are looking for smart independent movies. It is encouraging that her voice is being heard and her movie seen.

Middle of Nowhere is a strong, emotionally resonant film full of lived in compelling performances. It announces Ava DuVernay as a major filmmaker.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Worst Pies in London!

I'm on record saying that Helena Bonham Carter ruined the movie version of Sweeny Todd with her awful singing. I hate to keep harping on Helena who is almost always a delight in interviews and seems to have a good perspective on celebrity. But casting actors who can't sing in movie musicals is a pet peeve of mine. She's in the new Les Miserables hence this post.

To prove my point I give you evidence:

Angela Lansbury

Patti LuPone

Julia McKenzie (starts at 3:45)

and finally Helena

Who sang it best?

  • Julia McKenzie
  • Angela Lansbury
  • Patti Lu Pone
  • Helena Bonham Carter?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Most Anticipated - Les Miserables

Today a lucky few will the movie version of Les Miserables as it begins screening. I'm so jealous. It is my most anticipated movie of the year. Here's why:

It's a musical. I love musicals. It's big, emotional with lots of big juicy parts for actors. I love actors and acting.

They have really done a good job with casting. If there are 2 Hollywood stars who excel at musical theater and started their careers there ; it's Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Have you seen Jackman's charming opening when he hosted the Oscars a few years ago? And Annie joined him in it for a bit. Fantastic.
Hugh & Anne at Oscars

 Russell Crowe has a band ie. possibly he can sing and he has the gravitas to pull off Javert. Amanda Seyfried can sing and will be a good Cosette. Plus she has the same big eyes of Hathaway's so they are believable as mother and daughter. Aaron Tevit and Samantha Barks are musical theater vets on Broadway and in England respectively.

 Eddie Redmayne is an open question but his "heart full of love"face in the trailer makes me optimistic he can pull it off.

Helena as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are the two biggest potentials to ruin this. I mean Carter single handedly ruined the movie version of Sweeny Todd. But their roles as comic relief are not that significant. They get one song, even better Carter only gets to sing half of that song. Even she can't ruin this.

 I was not a fan of director Tom Hooper's last movie The King's Speech. However I think he can definitely make a very interesting movie of Les Miserables

And the marketing for this movie has been brilliant. That first trailer with just Hathaway singing Ï Dreamed A Dream" created the kind of buzz other movies only dream off.

Are you excited as I am? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oscar Season Bits & Pieces - Best Actress

Emmanuelle Riva

The Hollywood Reporter has released its annual Actress Round table which means that Oscar season is now in full swing. I always look forward to those because Best Actress is always my favourite category. This year looks to be a strong one; there are so many good movies already released and a couple of big mega movies just around the corner.

Let's dig by each category, the major ones of course. I'll provide my take and predictions. Let's start with  :

Best Actress - coming up Best Actor and  Best Supporting Actor
My vote goes to Emmanuelle Riva in Amour. What a performance : heartbreaking and full of moving melancholy and surprising strength. I hope she gets nominated. Going against her is that it's a foreign language film and even people who love it acknowledge that it is a difficult movie to sit through. It deals with inevitable decay, old age and death after all. Going for her is that everyone who sees the movie comes out marvelling at the performance.

Jennifer Lawrence

The pundits world would have you believe that Jennifer Lawrence is the front runner. I don't believe it. Don't get me wrong; I think Lawrence is the best thing about Silver Linings Playbook. I wanted to see more of her character; and therein lies the problem. It's a supporting role really. The story is Bradley Cooper's and she's there as his love interest. She's much better than him but because of how little she gets to do I don't think it's an Oscar winning performance. She has the big speech in her money scene and for that she'll be nominated. However even that speech's payoff is not emotional enough in my opinion. It kick starts the plot for the last third of the movie but does not affect the characters lives in a major way. I understand that Hollywood wants to reward her for The Hunger Games, she's young, hot and a box office draw. Still can't see this performance wining Best Actress.

Jessica Chastain

 I think this will be a match between Naomi Watts in The Impossible and Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty.Details of how big and central to the plot Chastain's role have just emerged. That got a lot of excitement. She has momentum from last year, not only for the nomination from The Help but for all the other movies she appeared in. Everyone acknowledges her as The Next Big Actress, set to join Meryl, Kate and Cate as a perennial Oscar nominee. Watts has lots of goodwill from her previous nomination plus she apparently gives a big emotional performance, suffers and cries a lot. Which she is fantastic at and why she was nominated for 21 Grams. A lot of people still talk about Mulholland Drive a decade after it was released, so lots of goodwill there. The problem with The Impossible is that the trailer is too manipulative, it dares you not to tear up. Is there a good movie behind that? Will people show up for suffering porn? If yes she will be unstoppable.

Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard is getting raves for Rust and Bone. I'll see it Friday, then I can make an informed decision. Although so far what I read seems to mixed with more praise going to her co-star  Matthias Schoenaerts. There is also young Quevenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. She carries that unique lyrical movie on her little shoulders and for that she wil be rewarded. Keira Knightely is very good as Anna Karenina as she has been in her last few movies. But the response to that movie has been sharply divided. I loved it, it worked for me. 

Emayatzy Corinealdi

There are a few performances that are not getting much attention but are still amazing. Emayatzy Corinealdi gives a subtle piercing performance in Middle of Nowhere and announces herself as a major talent. Kirsten Dunst is all brittle edges and angry frustration in Bachelorette taking a highly unlikeable character , making her human while being very funny. And the most likeable celebrity presence on twitter, Melanie Lynskey,  gives a touching performance in Hello I Must Be Going. She made me palpably feel her disappointment and then her quiet resolve and tentative hope.

Predicted 5 : Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quevenzhane Wallis, Naomi Watts.

Who do you think will be nominated? Tell all in the comments.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A few stray thoughts on Argo

This is not a review just a few stray thoughts........

- It's a movie movie in the best sense. It keeps you entertained, provides some humor, some thrills, characters to care about but doesn't tax you too much.

- Has a couple of simple but thrilling set pieces. The one at the end of the movie had me at edge of my seat, willing the characters to go where I knew they'd end... but still thrilling. It probably didn't happen that way in real life but it's a movie.... dramatic license. I was OK with it.

- I wish the screenplay developed Affleck's main character beyond the stock ""excellent at his job, trying to spend more time with kid". We've seen that many times. He's based on a real person after all!!

- Things go too smoothly throughout. Too straightforward and simple. Yes the rescue idea is called out as being bad but everybody gets on board. The Hollywood setting up of the fake movie also goes without a hitch. Is this how it happened in real life? There is no real conflict.

- My fave line : Ladies and Gentleman alcoholic beverages can be served now as we just crossed out of Iranian air space"". As I used to travel in Middle East that announcement always meant the party can start, has more meaning in the movie; still fun to hear it.

- Don't understand the Oscar buzz for Alan Arkin. He's very funny but hardly in the movie. Yes he has almost all the funny one liners but that's "best"of year?

- Chris Messina; when are you going to get a meaty movie role? Nice to see you pop up everywhere and lead on The Mindy Project, though.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Terrible Terrible Paperboy

Efron, McConaughey, Kidman and Oyelowo in The Paperboy

I was really excited to see The Paperboy. Critics online were crapping on it in a major way. But there was all the campy elements that I read about. Those were what got me really excited. Plus Nicole Kidman always makes interesting choices. Which other actress has a varied career that includes The Hours, Dogville, Birth and Moulin Rouge to name just four great but disparate movies.  Lets just forget about Just Go With It and Trespass.

The Paperboy, directed by Lee Daniels of Precious fame,  tells the story of the titular character (Zac Efron), his brother, a journalist (Matthew McConaughey), the journalist's writing partner (David Oyelowo) trying to free a death row inmate (John Cusack) with the help of the inmate's pen pal and intended (Kidman). It takes place in the 1960s in swampy humid South Florida and is narrated by Efron's nanny/housekeeper (Macy Grey). It's as crazy as this synopsis implies.

It started OK but then it became unbearable.The characters didn't make sense, shocking scene followed shocking scene for no reason. Yes the famous one with Kidman peeing on Efron, but also two strange graphic sex scenes with Kidman & Cusack, And it was full of blood and gore that  it didn't earn with a coherent story. By the end I was looking away willing it to end.

But its not all bad. The period costumes were right on target. Daniels also an a great ear for capturing the nuances of race in that era and a few of the minor characters read authentic.

The acting is so - so. Efron is fine and he looks very good in the tighty whitties he spends most of the movie in.  But Cusack on the other hand was just plain bad. Macy Gray and Nicole were trying to do something interesting. Kidman goes all out, it's the kind of performance that would be called ballsy just for the crazy stuff Daniels & his screenplay put her through. McConaughey's character goes through a lot of crazy things too. But what story or vision are they serving? A very incoherent one at best that does not really even care about the story or its characters.Agree with critics who crapped on it - it alienated all the affection I had beforehand by being terrible.

The first movie of 2012 that I absolutely loathed ... and I have seen Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A few thoughts on Lincoln

I attended the not so secret screening of "Lincoln"at the New York Film Festival tonight. I was hoping the secret film is Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty but I was pleasantly surprised with Lincoln. I expected it to be a fuddy duddy reverential history lesson and since it's Spielberg I thought it would be sappy.

The movie is a sorta thriller about the behind the scenes machinations of passing the 13th amendment and abolishing slavery. The players include Lincoln, his family, his cabinet, some congress me and other politicians and military men.

I was really surprised by the humor in the movie. Even though it is still a history lesson that felt too stiff and sedate for the most part, there was a lot of humor. It protrayed Lincoln not just as the great and savvy politician he is but also as a man prone to telling long stories. While the stories were long, there were also laughs. It took time to show his relationships with his family and the his staff at the White House.

Daniel Day Lewis is very good as Abe. I know there were complaints online about the voice but it works within the movie context. And I'm sure he did his research and that''s how Lincoln sounded. It's a quiet performance with no flash and no big scenes; in fact he is not in the most thrilling scene.

Sally Field aquits herself admirably as Mary Todd Lincoln and delivers the movie's biggest laugh in a scene with Tommy Lee Jones. She also gets a big screaming match with Day Lewis that was a wallop of a dramatic scene.

 Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens with a lot of wit and sarcasm. I would venture to say that his performance will be an awards magnet. Not just for the humor but because his character is the only only that has an emotional and personal connection to the historical events that all the others lack.

There is David Strathairn - as William Seward - who starts strong but fades away and off camera two thirds into the movie. Joseph Gordon Levitt felt too contemporary as Robert Todd Lincoln specially when he first appears. There are also roles for John Hawkes, James Spader (gets a lot of laughs), Jackie Earle Hailey, Walton Goggins, Jared Harris... lots of men in gray wigs and beards.

Below the line from cinematography to art direction to costumes are all first rate. And I applaud Spielberg and his screenwriter Tony Kushner for not going the full lifetime but rather concentrating on an smaller interesting story.

All in all entertaining historical story but not exactly a wow movie.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Movie Short Takes

After a summer traveling abroad I am back in New York and catching up with movies. Here are tiny reviews of movies I saw recently:  

The Dark Night Rises : Overpraised and very loud. I saw this on a lovely sunny day in Wales - there are so few of these - and I regretted leaving the sun to see it. Anne Hathaway was good and its always a pleasure to see Joseph Gordon Levitt but I had several problems with the movie. The politics were very muddled while trying to be topical; is the movie really against the Occupy movement? Christian Bale was doing the same tortured hero he always does; nothing new to see there. Tom Hardy was undermined by the mask covering half his face - really Chris Nolan you hire the biggest sexiest lips on a man in the movies and then hide them, really?

The Amazing Spider Man - Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are very charming together. I totally bought their romance and the chemistry was combusting. The rest of the movie was just blah.

Magic Mike - In my mind the best movie I saw this year to date. It was very refreshing, amid the summer glut of super heroes; to see a character driven movie. Who would've thought this would be it? And I liked that it didn't glamorise striping; the ugly underbelly of drugs and self loathing was all there on screen. Channing Tatum proved his current omnipresence is justified with a charming, understated natural performance. Matthew McConaughey does what I think is a riff on his perceived public persona is wining and probably his best performance ever.

Ted - Opened the same weekend as Magic Mike as the above meme attests and it is perfect counter programing. I remember laughing a lot but can't remember any of the jokes or performances now. Apparently entertaining but not memorable.

Bachelorette - Another very funny movie. But more memorable. This movie about a trio of mean girls attending their fat friend's wedding carrying along years of resentment and dashed hopes is caustingly funny. Its also not afraid of honestly portraying its protagonists in all their loathsome qualities. While Kirsten Dunst is funny and brittle as the main mean girl, Lizzy Caplan steals the movie with an all out funny performance full of pathos as the girl who refuses to grow up lest she face her teenage demons.

More shorts takes coming soon about Fall movies The Master, Hello I Must Be Going and End of Watch.