Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Birdman walks Into the Woods

Blunt with James Corden in Into the Woods
These two movies have nothing in common except they both dropped trailers today. And they star two actresses we are very fond of around these parts and who we think have yet to show their best. We are talking about charm machines Emily Blunt and Emma Stone.

Blunt is first up. We fell in love hard after The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Eight years later that remains our favorite performance of hers. Yes she was a charismatic and believable action star just this summer in Edge of Tomorrow (2014). But no movie has yet built on that promise in Prada. She's the number #1 reason we are excited about Into the Woods (2014). And that's a tall order since we consider Sondheim and Streep Gods. She's not in much of this teaser trailer, but we remain optimistic since The Baker's Wife is a plum part.

And now it's time for another lovely lady, Emma Stone.

Love this shot of Stone in Birdman
Stone has also not delivered on the promise of her early work in Easy A (2010). But at least she has become a global superstar thanks to the Spiderman reboot. She even made us watch those 2 movies just to see her. Stone is the type of actress whose snappy line delivery, warmth and chemistry with co-stars (she sizzles opposite Andrew Garfield) makes us wish Billy Wilder was still alive. Give us that The Apartment (1960) remake we don't need but would love if it starred Stone.

We are hoping her 1-2-3 punch of collaborating with Woody Allen, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Cameron Crowe will gave her the showcase she deserves. Well #1 didn't quite work out. While she was charming and got her own way with Allen's lines in Magic in the Moonlight (2014)the movie was minor Allen at best. Still there's his next movie in 12 more months. #3 was postponed to next year. So Mr. Inarritu our hopes are on your very capable shoulders.

Below is the second trailer from Birdman  and Stone gets to yell at Michael Keaton. Reportedly she's playing his recovering addict daughter. So maybe she gets to show range? Maybe she even gets her first Oscar nod? Hopes are high over here.

We have faith in both Blunt and Stone. Do you? Are you looking forward to these movies? What did you think of the trailers? Tell all in the comments.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Few Stray Thoughts on Get on Up

Boseman as James Brown

Opening this week is the James Brown biopic Get On Up (2014) from the The Help's Tate Taylor. Now I loved The Help and thought it a throwback to 1940s "women's movie" that I love so much. So many actresses, actressing. I was in heaven. Here are a few things I had in mind after catching Get on Up.

- Chadwick Boseman is great as James Brown. Ferocious and committed. He's got the moves and he's got the spirit. This should be a star making role. While it's Brown we hear singing, Boseman brings the energy and it never looks like he's lip syncing. He will definitely contend for a Golden Globe in the comedy/musical category and be in the long list for an Oscar but I think will not be nominated.

- The movie is very entertaining. While the jumping in chronology was irritating at first the story moved fast propelled by Brown's songs and Boseman's performance that after a while I didn't mind.

- While the movie was entertaining I don't think it will be as popular as The Help. It's a bit more idiosyncratic and less emotional. But nice to see Tate Taylor stretching and trying something more than a straight through biopic.

Davis as Brown's mother, Susie

- Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis have tiny parts. Spencer's is tinnier. At least Davis' character gets an emotional arc and a fantastic scene with Boseman later in the movie. Both of them raise the emotional stakes and it pays off in drama. And no Davis doesn't outright win the battle, Boseman is her equal so we are the winners.

- The other actor who shines besides Boseman is True Blood's Nelsan Ellis as Brown's confidant Bobby Byrd. It is a subtle sweet performance fitting the second fiddle role Byrd played in Brown's life.

- The movie does well with historical context. Fitting in Vietnam War and Dr King's assassination into Brown's story in a linear illuminating way.

- Brandon Smith appears in a couple of scenes as Little Richard. He brings with him a jolt of energy and a wild sexiness. I wanted more!

All in all an enjoyable couple of hours. Did you see it yet? What did you think? Are you planning on catching it? Tell all in the comments.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Wow. The marketing for Nightcrawler (2014) is genius. Look at that poster. Fantastic.  Retro, modern and enticing all the way.

And that wasn't even the first piece of marketing that we saw. This past weekend a one of kind clip of Jake Gyllenhaal in character looking all scrawny and desperate while trying to find a job, surfaced. Check it out below. "Hard Worker Seeking Employment" indeed!!

And riffing on the same theme we get the first teaser. Astonishing. Good job marketing people.

Everyone is talking Reese Witherspoon comeback this year. Rightly so with Wild and Inherent Vice coming later this year. But the biggest comeback story might be her ex, Jake. He has been steadily choosing excellent showcases for his talent the last couple of years. I loved both End of Watch (2012) and Prisoners (2013), liked Enemy (2013) but he was great in all three. Could Nightcrawler be the one that finally brings him back to bonafide stardom. Judging by this evidence it just might be. He's come a long way from Prince of Persia. We want the Brokeback Jake!!

What do you think? Tell all in the comments.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Under The Skin

I'm on record saying Under the Skin (2014) is the best film of the year so far. I've seen it twice and loved it each time. The cinematography is amazing and gives the movie a unique and other worldly look. So it was hard to choose just one shot. But for The Film Experience's series "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", I had to do my best.

I chose this shot because this scene was my first indication that this movie is going places I can't anticipate. Scarlett Johansson's unidentified alien has just undressed this dead woman, whom she might have killed,  and wore her clothes. Yet she takes a moment to take her in. What is she thinking? What is she going to do next? Did she just appropriate something more from the dead woman than just her clothes by that look? The last question in particular came to me because I thought Johansson played both of these characters. In some shots the dead woman looks just like her, in others she does not. What is happening? Something so sinister and foreboding yet exciting about the silhouettes in shadow juxtaposed against the stark white background. Again what the fuck is happening?

So many questions and no answers. This will continue until the very end of the movie. And that's what makes it singular and inventive. Man I love this movie.

Get Ready for The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game (2014) is coming, people. Everyone is going to flip for it when it opens this Fall. A real life tale about WWII with themes that resonate with contemporary audiences; it has the making of a movie that people will be talking about all Fall into the new year and beyond. The movie is about Alan Turing; the genius British mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code that helped the Allies win the war. He was also persecuted by the British government after the war for being gay. 

Already announced as the opening film of the London Film Festival. That was billed as a European Premiere which means it will appear somewhere in North America first. It was billed as a Canadian premiere in the Toronto announcement this morning which means it is probably going to Telluride. We know what that means : Oscar. I'm betting that it will be The Weinstein Company's major Oscar movie. 

Now for a full disclosure. I'm not betting blind. I have seen The Imitation Game in an early screening. While I do not want to review it this early, I'm very excited for its release. It delivers. Big Time. Get ready for Oscar Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch. And possibly two time Oscar Nominee Keira Knightley.

Let's start the excitement rolling with the two trailers that were released yesterday. The first is for the US, giving us more information about the Enigma program and a British one that sets up a framing device. Enjoy!!

How excited are you for The Imitation Game? Do you think all the Oscars are in ts future? Tell all in the comments.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Boyhood (2014) - Review

Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr.

What can I say about Boyhood (2014) after the whole world has proclaimed it a masterpiece. I was skeptical about it before I saw it. Called it condescendingly a "hipster" movie. Can't even define what that means. But I guess it's a movie for a certain kind of audience. I shouldn't have been dismissive and form opinions without watching the movie. But when something is universally lauded the contrarian in me comes alive.

Now after I've seen it I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Some moments were very moving. Do I like it? Yes. Do I consider it a good movie? Probably. A great one? Absolutely not.

Boyhood is the story of a divorced couple and their two young children (Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr, and Lorelei Linklater as Samantha) as they grow into young adulthood while living with the mother (Patricia Arquette) and getting frequent visits from the father (Ethan Hawke). The bold audacious stroke is that it was shot over a period of 12 years so we get to the passage of time as these characters, and the actors playing them, grow older.

That's obviously a unique way of telling this story that immediately gives it heart and pathos beyond its simple light beats. It is very moving to watch the passage of time; to see people grow up and come into their own, to see hope and disappointment and the curves life throws. It is doubly moving when presented this way. However beyond this admittedly genius stroke there was not a lot to the story. It is clearly a Linklater movie in that it is generous to most of its characters, well observed with nothing overtly dramatic happening. However we get a tender movie, a 'slice of life" narrative.

And this should be enough for a good movie. But I wasn't convinced. I was moved, I enjoyed it and despite the almost 3 hour length was never bored. But I wanted more. A more profound look at life. A more nuanced attempt at interpreting this story. More visual flair. Something more. I wanted the movie to floor me, amaze me, shake me. But that is not Linklater's style. That is not this movie. And so I resigned myself and decided to enjoy what was on offer.


And there's much to enjoy. Every scene is beautifully observed and flows naturally and seamlessly. Arquette is given a complex character and she dives in whole heartedly and delivers beautiful work in spades. While I think the movie is a bit hard on her character - giving her all the hardship and stupid decisions to deal with while Hawke's character roams freely being "cool" - it also gives her the dramatic arc and her performance is never less than engaging. Coltrane is fine within the parameters of the story but he's not a vivid presence on screen.

I highly recommend Boyhood. It is a unique movie experience and for that it should be applauded. I just wish there was more to it.

Have you seen Boyhood? What did you think? Tell all in the comments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tribute to Barbara Stanwyck on Her Birthday

I love Barbara Stanwyck. She is one of the most alive and sexy actresses on screen.Her presence is a great gift to movie fans. 107 years ago Stanwyck was born. We are lucky to live in a time where we can watch and enjoy her brilliance. Let's look at a few examples.

This is the classic she's most associated with, Double Indemnity. "How fast was I going?" Can you blame him. It's Barbara and her anklet. Credit also goes to Billy Wilder for the snappy zippy dialogue.

This is from her later years. The TV mini series The Thorn Birds. Earthy, vibrant and sexual even in her later years.

Let's end with her singing in Ball of Fire. It's not a great movie but she's great in it.

What's your favorite Stanwyck performance? Tell all in the comments.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

To Chiwetel Ejiofor on his 37th Birthday

Dirty Pretty Things

I saw Chiwetel Ejiofor for the first time in Dirty Pretty Things (2002). He has been one of my favorite actors ever since I saw him in that movie. So it was lovely to see him rise to prominence last year as the star of 12 Years A Slave (2013).

12 Years A Slave

If you were given the impossible choice of which of these 2 performances do you prefer? Can you choose 1? I can't. Which is why I'm asking you. Tell me by choosing one in the poll below or if you can't tell me why in the comments.

online poll by Opinion Stage

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Baby Jane of Our Times

I was watching Notes on a Scandal (2006) again the other day with a friend. We were both enjoying the performances, the highly quotable dialogue and of course the marvelous actresses. When it occurred to me, this movie is the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) of our times. It is destined to be a "hagxploitation" or "Grande Dame/Guignol" classic. Baby gays everywhere will discover it, fall in love with the "over the top" aspects and start quoting in their everyday lives. Oh how glorious.

If we look closely there are similarities between both movies. Both are about a complex lonely woman who is presented as a villain (Barbara in Notes played by Judi Dench and Jane in Baby Jane played by Bette Davis). However as we get to know this villain we find ourselves empathetic to her plight and understanding of how she got to where she did. Both movies' other woman (Sheba in Notes played by Cate Blanchett and Blanche in Baby Jane played by Joan Crawford) is presented as a victim of our villain but as we get to know her she shows herself as selfish and someone who is willing to let others suffer for her desires.

There is also the dodgy politics. Yes both movies present women front and center but they are about a predatory Lesbian and a delusional crazy has-been. A stereotype and a cliche. While a lot of good dramas are about anti-heroes, the tone of both these movies is not flattering to their protagonists. But they are still fun to watch.

Another major similarity comes in terms of Oscar. Both Davis as Jane and Dench as Barbara were nominated for Best Actress. They lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker and Helen Mirren in The Queen respectively. But they should've won. Both performances are classics. And of course all 4 fantastic actresses are Oscar Winners with careers that will stand the test of time.

Let's relive some of the most delicious moments from both classics.

"You are not young. I say this to help you"

"But you are, Blanche. You are in that chair"

"I gave you EXACTLY what you wanted"

"I didn't bring you breakfast, because you didn't eat your din-din!"

You think this is a love affair? A relationship? What, sticky gold stars, and - and a strand of my hair? A sticker from Pizza Express? It's a flat in the Archway Road and you think you're Virginia frigging Woolf!"

"Oh really, did she like it." "Oh really did she like it"

" Do you want to fuck me, Barbara".

"Here come the local pubescent proles. The future plumbers, shop assistants, and doubtless the odd terrorist too. In the old days, we confiscated cigarettes and wank mags. Now it's knives and crack cocaine. And they call it progress".

"People like Sheba think they know what it is to be lonely. But of the drip, drip of the long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. What it's like to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. Of this, Sheba and her like have no clue"

"You could've been better than all of 'em. But they didn't want that. They just didn't love you enough. Do you know that? They just didn't love you enough"

I'll leave you with a couple of indelible images from both movies. Sheba's memorable "Here I am" outburst and Jane slapping Blanche. Of course there is a corresponding slap in Notes (Sheba slaps Barbara to start their big climactic confrontation) but couldn't find a picture of it.

What are some of your favorite quotes? Did I miss any? What other "hagxploitation" classics do you like?

Best of 2014 First Half

While compiling this list I discovered that there is not a lot that I loved in the first half of the year. It was hard to come up with a few titles. However these are what I responded to the most. All the films mentioned below I've liked very much.

Best Film

Under the Skin

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard - The Immigrant

Best Actor

Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Supporting Actress

Mia Wasikowska - The Double & Only Lovers Left Alive

Best Supporting Actor

Peter Sarsgaard - Night Moves

Best Cinematography

Under the Skin

Most Enjoyable Summer Movie

Begin Again

Plus Suzanne, Grand Central, Love is Strange and The Imitation Game which I saw at an assortment of festivals and early screenings but they don't count since they haven't been released yet.

What were some of your favorites? Tell all in the comments.