I missed this one last year and watched it, yesterday, on HBO on Demand, as I "enjoyed" the bug Henry passed on to me. (Thanks, pre-school.) I liked it, it was fun, great dialogue, but as someone else (Hi Andrew!) pointed out, the dialogue and delivery was a little too snappy and clever to be believable. It bugged him. I'll say I NOTICED it, but still appreciated the humor.
The plot in a nano-second, for those of you who didn't see it: 16-year-old hip, but sweet, girl has sex (once) with a geeky guy she has an inexplicable crush on, gets pregnant, and decides to go through with the pregnancy.
There aren't a lot of deep ah-ha moments in this one. But it's nice to have a non-movie-of-the-week version of this age-old story, isn't it? The performances, especially Ellen Page, as Juno, are first-rate.
Other things I liked, aside from Juno--who is, I must say, an incredibly appealing character:
All the cultural references--slasher movies, classic rock, Les Pauls, etc etc.
Jason Bateman's understated and cool performance as the potential adoptive dad...I didn't know he had it in him
Jennifer Garner...Her character was uptight, but in a believable way, not in the OCD, unsympathetic way people of this ilk are usually portrayed. Again, a nice understated and real version of a stereotypical type of character. I didn't want to be her, thought she was annoying, but liked her and felt sympathetic toward her...that's a lot to pull off.
Allison Janney...Again, too witty, but her delivery is so great I totally forgave her.
Blue Slushies. I need a blue Slushy, like, now. Though I'd prefer not to throw it up upon consumption. (Bit of a spoiler, sorry)
I also need that Slinky t-shirt Juno is wearing toward the end.
All in all, great rental. I was happy I got to check it out.
Full disclosure: I watched Halloween about three times in a row, just for fun, about a month ago. Yes, that's the kind of person I am. I cut my teeth on the 80's horror flicks and have a ridiculously warm attachment to them. So while I'm a little apprehensive at the idea of a slick new re-make, I'm also game.....I think I need a Camp Crystal Lake T-Shirt, though. (Kill Kill Kill Now Now Now)
Kathleen Coleman was born on February 18, 1962. Her claim to fame is for her portrayal of Holly Marshall on 'Land of the Lost', a show which first ran on Saturday mornings on NBC from September 1974 to December 1976. Her straight bangs and braids, along with her red and white checked shirt and corduroys became her trademark. Holly was the first love for many who grew up watching the show. She married at age 18 and had two sons. She worked on her father-in-laws dairy farm in Fallon, Nevada with her husband for several years before they divorced around 1987, after which she moved back to the Los Angeles area.
(p.s. I have no idea who the guy in the picture is, but if I were Kathleen, I'd watch out for him)
(p.s.s...a little more research has revealed that the due gripping Kathleen is Enik, from the original series...I'm still scared of him.)
When Spencer Milligan left the show after the second season, his absence was explained by having Rick Marshall disappear after he was trying to use one of the pylons to get home.
The producers came up with a very interesting idea to keep their viewers looking at the show during the hiatus between the first and second seasons. In the first season's final episode, the Marshalls discover that for some reason they aren't supposed to be there. Enik later informs them that due to a time disturbance that they never really arrived in the Land of the Lost and must go back in time and relive the accident that brought them there. By going back in time, they also would experience everything that happened to them up to that point in a sort of time loop.
During the final season two new monsters were introduced, a two-headed monster named Lulu and a fire-breathing monster named Torchy. Lulu was based on the Pleisiosaur, an aquatic reptile from the Cretaceous period, while Torchy was based on the Dimetrodon, a reptile that died out before Earth's Paleozoic Era transformed into the Mesozoic Era.
During the final season, the Marshalls and Chaka moved from their cave to a Sleestak temple. This was partially forced because of a fire that destroyed substantial portions of the studio between the show's second and third seasons.
Wesley Eure would often perform songs at the end of several episodes with lyrics pertaining to the lesson learned in the course of the episode.
Former Clevland Cavs and Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer was a Sleestak during the show's first season
It is Land of the Lost, the Saturday morning show that I adored when I was a kid. For those of you unfamiliar with this brilliant piece of work, it starred Rick, the dad, and his two kids, Will and Holly, who were on an innocent rafting trip when something happened and they fell back in time to when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. All kinds of hijinks ensued, including some involving a race of creepy aliens called Sleestaks.
To say that I loved this show, which ran from 1974 to 1976, is actually an understatement. I Netflix-ed it awhile back and showed it to my son, Henry, who was still teething at the time. It was hopelessly dorky when I saw it again, but I didn't care. I still loved it.
At any rate, there must be other middle-aged fans as lame as I am, because there's a Land of the Lost MOVIE coming out, starring Will Ferrell. I didn't recognize the rest of the cast list, but there are AWFUL lot of Sleestaks on the list, so I'm expecting loads of Sleestak shenanigans in the re-make. Release date is June 9th. Can't wait!
Remember in an earlier entry, when I said I didn't get Wendy and Lucy and all the fawning it--and its director, Kelly Reichardt--got from the critics?
I thought maybe I needed to see some of her earlier work to get why they were so excited about her. So we rented Old Joy (2006), an award winning movie about two old buddies who take off to check out the hot springs in the backwoods of Oregon.
We're only part-way through, but it's spectacular. Quiet, observant, beautiful and atmospheric. In parts, I felt like I was in the passenger seat of the car, watching the landscape--which, of course, tells its own story--roll by. Given that that's one of my favorite things to do, I'm really enjoying the movie so far.
I think I'm going to end up a Reichardt fan. I'll post more about Old Joy soon. Meanwhile, here's a Q&A that ran in the NYT with Reichardt when Wendy and Lucy came out.
Okay, that’s a little mean, I admit, especially because Changeling is the one movie, among this group, that I didn’t see. I couldn’t. The previews were so unbearable I knew I couldn’t stand two hours of it. I think Angelina Jolie can be good. But this movie just smacked of the same kind of Hollywood drivel that afflicted Benjamin Button. (I guess she and Brad were in lightweight mode this year.) So, what am I looking for here? Nothing less than a whole-hearted lunge into the character.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married. At times, I thought Hathaway was brilliant. The toast scene, in which Hathaway, an unpredictable recovering addict takes the microphone at a pre-wedding dinner and proceeds to deliver a toast that made me want to crawl under my seat, is a tour de force. It was wonderfully written, and Hathaway ran with it. There were other times, though, were I was thinking, “eh, princess-y Hollywood pet is trying to be ugly.” That’s not what you should be thinking in the presence of an Oscar-worthy performance. So…I don’t think so. (But I suspect the academy might vote differently.)
Angelina Jolie, Changeling. Didn’t see it. Don’t want to see it. Please don’t make me see it. To quote my two-year-old: “No, no, NO!”
Melissa Leo, Frozen River. Leo is so convincing as a down-and-out woman living on the edge that I was shocked to see her looking considerably less stressed out in a photo in the NYT. I loved her in this. It’s one of those movies that almost didn’t get made, finally got funding and eked its way out. Which is to say, it was a labor of love for the director and Leo, who was attached to the project for a long time. And it shows. I adore the beginning, in which we see Leo, sitting in her beat up car, realizing she’s been ripped off by her husband (and from this, all the action ensues), and the end—which manages to side step the usual movie clichés.
Meryl Streep, Doubt. You know, I enjoyed this performance, but…I don’t know. It doesn’t feel BIG enough, somehow, for the little gold guy. Yes, we have Meryl Streep in a nun’s habit. (I heard her, on The View, saying she loved the habit—covered all kinds of body issues.) Yes, we have her with a slight Brooklyn accent. Yes, we have her being kind of a bitch, which is kind of fun. But…Streep, at this point in her career, faces an extra challenge—can she be good enough to make you stop thinking, Oh, there’s Meryl Streep in a nun’s habit? Not quite, for me, at least. And I think Leo’s performance was gutsier.
Kate Winslet, The Reader. What can I say? I have yet to see Winslet be anything but 1,000% in character. I love her taste, and the fact that she’s deliberately circled around the kinds of movies that make me quote my two-year-old. She’s getting a bit of Meryl Streep syndrome, i.e. hey look, there’s Kate Winslet dressed like a dowdy haus frau! This is accentuated by the fact that she’s in two big movies this season (loved Revolutionary Road). I actually liked her a little better, in RR, I think. But also thought she was great as the brusque and slightly tender Hannah Schmitz, ex-Nazi prison guard with a bit of a heart—albeit one we will never understand.
My vote goes for Leo, but I don’t think she’ll actually get it. That’s because I doubt anyone in the academy owes her a favor or wants her in their next blockbuster, etc etc….I’m betting it’s going to go to Hathaway or Winslet…probably Winslet. And, honestly, she’s earned it. I would be disappointed for Leo, but happy to see it go to Winslet.
Here’s my problem when pondering the Oscar nominations, or rather, who will win…am I trying to guess who will based on merit of the performance, or who will win based on merit of performance plus all the behind-the-scenes studio politics (and other influences we outsiders know little of)…? I guess I’ll go for the former, since it’s the only one I can speak semi-intelligently about….So, here are my thoughts
Josh Brolin, Milk. I like Josh Brolin, I thought he did a great job in No Country for Old Men, and I thought he did a good job capturing George Bush’s physical mannerisms in W (though I didn’t like that movie at all), but I thought this was just an okay performance. It was mostly about the hair (lordy, am I glad sideburns are out of style) and the suit. In fact, when I left this movie—which suffered from high-expectation-syndrome—my main criticism was that I didn’t really understand Brolin’s character (or his actions), beyond the fact that he was conservative and insecure. That could have been a problem with the script, or editing, ergo not Brolin’s fault…but the end result just didn’t add up to best actor for me. Sorry, Josh. Heath Ledger, Dark Knight. Funny to see a movie like this in the Oscars. (And ditto Tropic Thunder, below.) But it says something that, when I think about this movie, I can’t remember who Batman was…i.e. Ledger most definitely stole the show. It was, I must say, an incredibly edgy, scary and believable performance. I adore it when an actor brings an element of reality to characters that have been played as caricatures (Daniel Craig as James Bond being another recent example) in the past. I would love to have seen more of this character in sequels. The image that keeps coming back to me is of Ledger in nurse’s uniform, biceps bulging, stalking through the parking lot in white orthopedic shoes as the hospital blew up behind him. A definite contender. I so wish this young, talented actor was around to do more work. Robert Downey, Jr. Tropic Thunder. Okay, I love Ben Stiller’s stuff, and Robert Downey Jr is always an interesting draw…but this one just looked too dumb for me and I didn’t see it. If I had time to see every movie, as I did in my pre-toddler life, I probably would have seen it. A clutch of relatives watched it over Christmas on DVD, however, and one said it was so bad he was embarrassed to be watching it. That made me feel glad I hadn’t wasted 12 bucks, until I saw this nomination. I can well believe that in a crappy and embarrassing movie, Downey managed a virtuoso performance. (He’s that kind of actor.) But I can’t give him my vote without having seen him, alas. And I sort of think, re: the REAL Oscars, that the dumbness of the movie might hurt his chances. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt. I adore this guy. I loved his brash, ugly offensiveness in The Talented Mr. Ripley. I loved his calm kindness in Magnolia. I loved his compassionate and believable Capote. But, though I thought he was great in Doubt, I don’t think this is his Oscar year. (If Elizabeth were awarding the Oscars, that is.) The reason: I think, that it’s a pretty understated role, and some of the “louder” characters played by other nominees stand out more, in contrast. Ergo I love you Philip, but maybe next year. Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road. Speaking of louder characters…It doesn’t get louder, or more startling, than Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. I keep referring to him as RR’s Greek Chorus because, in the midst of fifties niceness and the self-delusion of the main characters, he’s the one who cuts to the chase and rudely states the truth. No one likes it, and he’s so brusque and, in some scenes, angry, that it’s hard to watch without squirming…but I was still cheering for him. I was still thinking, he’s the only sane one. It’s an electrifying performance. When I went home and IMDB-d Shannon I realized he’d been in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (mean blackmailer), too. I remembered him, then—another scary, unpredictable guy. Is he playing himself? Typecast? Or a really great actor? Hard to know yet, but I know I want to see MUCH more of him.
So in Elizabeth’s version of the Oscars, it’s between Ledger and Shannon. Sentiment says Ledger. I’d like to acknowledge an up-and-comer says Shannon. Otherwise, I’m torn….If push came to shove, I might have to say Ledger, mainly because he had more screen time and, odd as it sounds, a more developed character. (In Batman? I know, crazy, right?) But I would not at all be unhappy to see Shannon take it.
I know, I know. Late to to the party. I just saw it last night, and I have to say, I really liked it...I love all the ambiguities we're left with in the end. Lots to talk about over a beer at...Chat and Chew, the groovy restaurant, near Union Square, we went to after the movie. More later....but feel free to weigh in in advance!
It’s true. If it weren’t for a vague sense of obligation to write something about them on this here movie blog, I might be ignoring all this Oscar stuff. Part of it is a vague sense that the winners are based on political maneuvering on the inside (remember the campaign for Shakespeare in Love?), and I’m just a dorky outsider with my nose pressed against the window, taking it at face value. (That’s kind of how I feel about Wall Street, too. I’m a hair away from stuffing my money in my mattress.)
But I think it’s also that it threatens to make Hollywood’s views more important than our own. I mean, I thought Sally Hawkins was brilliant in Happy Go Lucky. If she didn’t get a nomination, am I supposed to take my own opinion less seriously? Am I really supposed to think that Angelina Jolie was better in The Changeling? I don’t think so. And I don't have a lot of faith in the taste of someone who does.
Hence my irritation as I perused the list of nominees yesterday—which ultimately culminated in the I-don’t-know-if-I-care attitude.
Viewers’ opinions count when it comes to box offices, but beyond that….nope. I guess our ticket is our “vote,” so to speak. And we’re supposed to leave it at that. But it’s hard when some movies, actors and directors make us care enough to want them acknowledged for their artistry. And yes, I know it’s all subjective.
But for those of us who care, it hurts to see Hawkins dissed, while Angelina Jolie is nominated for standard Hollywood crap. Meanwhile, seeing the deserving Melissa Leo nominated for the much smaller picture, Frozen River, just confuses me. (Leo, fyi, played a mother of two, living on the edge, with a modest but almost unattainable dream of getting a better trailer for the family. Her performance is gutsy, believable and heartbreaking.) Great, but why not Hawkins, too? Did someone pull a string to get Angelina on the list?
Wait, I don’t care, right? Breathe, Elizabeth.
I’m a little confused. And weary. In the end, as I said, I’m not sure I care about the awards, especially when they’re so perverse. I don’t really need Hollywood’s validation. I just want to keep seeing good movies, and the bottom line is that seeing some of the crap that’s on the list this year—and knowing what isn’t on it—makes me fearful that 2010 and (shiver) maybe even 2011 is going to be full of yet more Benjamin Buttons.
I really like Richard Jenkins, who was nominated for an Oscar for actor in a lead role in the movie, The Visitor. He's a great character actor, and I loved him as the morose and wry dad in Six Feet Under. But I have to say, the first I EVER heard of this movie was this morning when I looked at the list of nominees. Weird. Anyone else seen or heard of this one?
I have a love hate relationship with Brad Pitt. On one hand, I think the guy can act. On the other hand, I loathe it when movie stars with talent take on what seem to be movies primarily geared to push our collective buttons and make lots of money. Some actors have such great taste, you can always trust the movies they’re in. William H. Macy, for instance. Or Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But Pitt isn’t trustworthy. And neither is Cate Blanchett (also a good actress), on this front. Which is a long way of saying I was dragging my feet about seeing this movie, and was DELIGHTED when my friend, Nancy Wartik, said she’d not only seen it, but would be happy to spare me the trouble (not to mention the twelve bucks). So here, without further ado, is guest-blogger Nancy Wartik…….
Benjamin Button: Curiously Bad
Often when I go to a movie that's gotten glowing reviews, I wind up disappointed because my expectations were too high. (Wall*e fit that category, for me.) On the other hand, when I have lower hopes for a movie, I'm often pleasantly surprised. I thought my husband might enjoy Iron Man and The Dark Knight, but didn't think I’d get much from either film; I wound up loving them both.
The other night I went with two friends to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even though it wasn't high on my list. I knew it was about a man who aged backwards, from old to young, and I'd seen director David Finch and Brad Pitt discuss it on Charlie Rose, though Brad's main contribution to the conversation seemed to be "uh..." and "ummm..."
Not such a promising omen. But The Class didn't seem to be playing anywhere; I'd promised my husband not to see Revolutionary Road without him; and one of my friends didn't want to see The Wrestler. So I went.
This should be the point at which I write that, in fact, against all expectation, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button turned out to be one of the best movies of this, or any other, year. Unfortunately, that would be completely untrue. It's one of the most mediocre movies of this or any other year.
The movie has its entertaining moments, but on the whole, the acting is flat, the story line disjointed, the settings and characters often gratuitous, and the ultimate "message" unclear. And one of my pet peeves is when movies about time travel or other explorations of the fourth dimension don't follow their own internal logic about how the rules should work. Benjamin Button is a prime offender.
Here's the plot, based loosely on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story: Somehow or other, a clock running backwards in a New Orleans train station in 1918 causes Brad Pitt, aka Benjamin Button, to be born looking like a baby-sized 86 year old man. His mother dies in childbirth and Benjamin, left on the steps of a nursing home, is taken in and grows up there, aging backwards.
When he's five, he has a five-year-old's mind in a child-sized 81-year-old body. When he's 13, he's got an adolescent's mind in a teenage-sized 73-year-old body. And so on, and so forth. (Throw in some theoretically humorous situations involving prostitutes, drink, and a 70-year-old adolescent, along the way.)
What else befalls Benjamin? For some reason, he's befriended by a pygmy living in New Orleans. Eventually the pygmy leaves town. Benjamin goes to work on a tugboat and then sails to Russia, where he stays in a hotel while working on the tugboat during the day. He meets Tilda Swinton, an elegant British spy, who for some reason is staying at a hotel were tugboat day laborers board. At this point, Benjamin should look as if he's in his mid-60s, and yet he's already shed enough makeup to be looking dapperly Brad Pitt-ish and maybe 50 at the most. Brad and Tilda fall in love. They have lots of good sex. Then Pearl Harbor is attacked and they each have to skedaddle. They don't have sex anymore.
Back in New Orleans, Brad/Benjy meets a childhood love, Daisy, who's grown up to be Cate Blanchett, radiating little in the way of warmth or charm in this role. Daisy tries to seduce him, telling him she likes older men (though at this point, Benjamin ought to be in his early 60s while she's 20 or so, which gives the whole scene a creepy feel, or would if Pitt looked the appropriate age). Benjamin and Daisy part. Then they meet again in New York. Then they part again. Then they meet again in Paris. Then... well, you get the idea.
Finally, when their ages are close to meeting in the middle, they both show up in New Orleans and fall in love. They have lots and lots of good sex, despite seeming to have little onscreen chemistry. Daisy accumulates crow's feet while Benjamin loses them. But the sword of Damocles always hangs o'er the relationship because, when two lovers are aging in different directions, at some point one of them is going to wind up facing a charge of statutory rape.
The idea of a life lived backwards and how it intersects with the lives of loved ones isn't without inherent interest; it's easy to see why the movie was tempting to make. The make-up and special effects people have also done great work. But Brad Pitt is actually most convincing in his role as a little old boy-man. As Pitt's layers of make-up grow thinner, he starts to turn back into his movie star self, and that's when the movie starts faltering most seriously.
For instance, in the 1960s scenes, when Pitt should have the same long-haired hippie look everyone else did, he's clean-cut and blindingly handsome in his t-shirt and shades, looking as if he'd just stepped out of the pages of last week's People magazine.
The movie is framed by a deathbed dialogue between the aged Daisy and her daughter (Julia Ormond) who's a bit of a lost soul, though we never find out why, or very much about her at all.
Inexplicably, the movie is also set in a New Orleans hospital at the very moment Katrina's about to strike, meaning nurses periodically pop onscreen to say things like, "Well, they think the storm is probably going to blow right past us," or "Now they're saying we've all got to get out." The device does little but add to the overall choppy, inconsequential feel of the movie.
The closing minutes of the movie must have had some kind of weight because they left one of my friends in tears. Still, she insisted she's the sort who can sob over a Kleenex commercial, and she was right there with the rest of us at the cinematic post-mortem, toting up the movie's various lapses and implausibilities. Watch the movie backward or watch it forward: I found Benjamin Button's tale to be ultimately a time-waster.
Parents of toddlers might do a double take in one of the later scenes of Revolutionary Road. Yep, that's Dan Zanes playing guitar in the Steve Kovac band (really Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks). Zanes, for those of you not familiar with him, was a member of the 80's band, The Del Fuegos. After he and his wife had a baby, he started playing with other fathers he met at the playground and now does non-kid-like music for kids--often with cameos with people like Natalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega--that's truly great. We just got one of his CDs for Henry for Christmas.
The one criticism Paul had after RR was that he didn't find Leonardo DiCaprio quite believable as Frank Wheeler. "He just seemed to young, or soft, or something," Paul said. I found him pretty believable. But I was reading Dave Denby's review the other day and saw that he had a tiny quibble with DiCaprio that sort of echoed what Paul said.
"DiCaprio, by turns cocky, supplicating, and enraged, gets the externals right, but he seems a little afraid of revealing the depths of Frank's shallowness. Frank is a liar, an adulterer, and a compromiser who betrays himself as much as his wife, but DiCaprio projects a natural heroic sweetness--it's in his movie-star genes--which, in this case, is at odds with the character he's playing. If you think of Paul Newman's acid moments in The Hustler and Hud, you can imagine how the role might have been done."
Shannon has a smallish role in Revolutionary Road—he appears as the “not well,” i.e. mentally ill, son of a local real estate broker. But when he’s on screen he is absolutely riveting. I didn’t recognize him, but he’s had roles in Vanilla Sky and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. (I think he played the shady brother–in-law of Hawke’s unfortunate accomplice.) He was so good in RR that I’d go to another movie he was in—even if it’s a small role. A guy to watch. Here's a really nice profile of him in New York Magazine.
I kept catching glimpses of good reviews of this movie. (I say glimpses because I don’t read reviews before I see movies…maybe just a first line to see if the thing is a total abomination or intriguing.)
And it won awards for best actress (Michelle Williams) and best director (Kelly Reichardt) from the Toronto Film Critics Association. It was also nominated for best feature and best lead by the Independent Spirit Awards.
AND it appeared on something like 80 critics top ten lists.
All of which is to say I had kind of high expectations that it was going to be one of those indie gems. But I walked out thinking, well, it was a nice little movie but it felt kind of…. film school. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I guess I was just expecting something different.
The premise is so simple I’m at a loss for how to describe it without literally giving away the entire story. I saw it at Film Forum, where they had posted A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times on a big poster board, and Scott gave the story away in the span of about 8 words. I didn’t count, but I’m actually not exaggerating.
This isn’t a movie about a lot of action, or big ideas (though Scott had a lot high falutin’ notions paralleling Wendy to today’s economic crisis). It’s a little poem, a close up photograph, of a young woman living on the edge, with not a lot to call her own, or a friend, but her dog, Lucy. And that’s as much as I can tell you without blowing it for you.
One of the reviews I read AFTER the fact called it a political movie without any political grandstanding…which is an interesting thought, and possibly true, and makes me like the movie better…I’d be curious to hear what any of you think.
I don’t want this to sound like a pan. It’s not. The movie is very focused, very intimate—there’s almost no soundtrack, other than Williams humming a haunting little tune—and paints an interesting portrait…it’s just…little in scope, like looking under a magnifying glass.
Reichardt, the director, is regularly described as an up-and-comer. Two of her earlier movies, River of Grass and Old Joy were pretty highly celebrated. She’s known for her “narratives of the road” and landscapes—two themes which definitely run through Wendy and Lucy. In fact, I think one of my favorite moments in the film was a scene in which Wendy is standing, contemplating the woods, and you actually hear the wind rustling the trees. In a bigger budget movie, we’d be hearing a soundtrack.
Ultimately I’m on the fence on this one…it could be that this movie suffered from being seen on the heels of Revolutionary Road, which was definitely a big budget movie, and big on ideas and action. It could be it isn’t as good as the critics say—though there are certainly a lot saying it’s good. It could be I need to see Reichardt’s earlier films—and that if I do, I’ll see this movie as part of the continuum and find her more interesting. Though shouldn’t a movie stand up on it’s own?
I don’t know. I may have to Netflix those earlier movies. I’ll let you know if I do.
Word is that J.J. Abrams updated his Facebook page with the news that the new Star Trek movie is almost done and will be out in May. If he's playing with us, he's gonna get a Vulcan neck pinch thingie from me.
Seems that Mickey Rourke is in talks to be in Iron Man 2. I wanted to see that one in the theater...Robert Downey was supposed to be amazing. I hope it works out, but in any case, I'm psyched to see where Rourke will show up next, given his resurgence in The Wrestler.
Remember when John Travolta was a has-been-sad-sack, and Quentin Tarantino gave him a chance in Pulp Fiction? I'm hoping the same thing happens with Rourke. As I said, I wasn't a huge fan of his before, but he totally won me over in The Wrestler. Let's see more of this guy.
(The picture is Mickey Rourke back in his still-cute era. That was before he left the film business and decided to be a boxer for awhile, thus ruining his face and undergoing lots of unfortunate plastic surgery.)
Seeing Revolutioary Road gave me an idea: Movies about suburbia. It's definitely a modern theme, isn't it? And one that intrigues me (and, okay, sometimes repels me).
I grew up in the suburbs--Bethesda, Maryland, to be exact--on a block in which most of the houses, if not exactly identical, were pretty damn close. The funny thing was that even an attempt to be different was usually foiled. "Oh, I like your deck, I think I'll add one to my house, too!"
I always felt like I was the only different one/family in the bunch. Back story: My brother had an immune deficiency disorder that required him to live in a sterile "bubble" room at the nearby National Institutes of Health. His story, and that of a little boy in Texas, were merged to create "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" (a movie that, for the record, I loathed). So, yeah, life...not so normal.
But given that the point of many movies and novels about suburbia tends to be that all KINDS of craziness goes on behind those identical doors, and that many of us grew up feeling like the black sheep in the universe, I guess I wasn't unique after all.
This is a long wind-up to a top ten list, isn't it?
Okay...I'm working on it. Here's what I've got for you so far (in no particular order)..and feel free to contribute your own nominees!
1) The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997).
2) American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999) Same director as Revolutionary Road.
3) Little Children (Todd Field, 2006) Kate Winslet again. She and Mendes, who is her husband--and a Brit, like she is--must have a pet fascination.
4) Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998)
5) Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995) Talk about pet fascinations...
6) Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
7) Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975) O.k., it's not a great movie. (And fyi, I'm talking about the first one. The re-make, a few years ago, surpassed not-great and earned the adjective "unbearable.") But given that "Stepford" has become such a much-used adjective, i.e. "That's so Stepford!" I think it merits a place on the list....
Paul and I have a problem, which is to say that we're interested in everything and we have limited time to learn/do it all. Even less time now that Henry has become part of our lives. So Paul came up with the idea that each year, we should choose just one interest and devote whatever spare time we have to it. That way, we have a shot at avoiding the stop-and-start frustration that so often plagues us ("I was getting so into x and then totally lost track of it...") and, as he says, "start ticking them off."
This was going to be my year to learn French, an interest which wasn't even in my top five until I went to something like four French movies in a row. But we're going to be travelling a bit, so I can't sign up for a class (which, I think, I need), and I seem to be devoting more and more time to this blog. Ergo I decided to switch my 2009 project from French to...movies. My goal: See at least one in the theaters a week, watch at least one on DVD a week, and read/experience everything I can related to movies and the making of them.
Oh yeah, and write about it all.
I'm hoping to check out the film festival scene, too. I looked up a list of them the other day and was blown away by how many there are, and the specificity of some of them--one is devoted to horror movies, for instance, another to films made from stories by H.P. Lovecraft, an American author with a distinct Poe sensibility. I think this is going to be fun.
So, there it is in writing...it's the year of...MOVIES! Ticket, please.....
Well, once again, our plans got a bit messed up and we saw a different movie than we intended to. This time, we ended up putting off seeing Secrets of the Grain at the IFC and seeing Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams (of Dawson's Creek and Brokeback Mountain) at Film Forum instead. It was getting all kinds of raves, lots of talk about the up-and-coming director...so we went. We were kind of disappointed. I'll post more later, but for now, suffice it to say it kind of felt like a film school project. It's a case where the advance hype did NOT do the film any favors.
Hell, I'm not seeing this one, either. Tomorrow I'm seeing a fancy pants French movie called (translation) Secrets of the Grain. So I'll leave the likes of Mall Cop to Dana Stevens of Slate, who gets paid to watch this crap. Read on, and caveat emptor, baby.
Every once in awhile, Paul and I have the "I'll never" conversation. Those of you of a certain age might recognize it. It's the one in which you take stock of your age and realize all the things that are now out of reach...as in, "I'll never compete in the Olympics," "I'll never play professional baseball," "I'll never be a doctor."
For the most part, I'm really happy with my life, but it is sobering, occasionally, to realize that you've passed that point in your life when ALL things are possible.
When we meet the Wheelers--April and Frank (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio), they're both just about 30, living in the suburbs of Connecticut, with two kids. And they're having the "I'll never" conversation. Not out loud. Not even consciously, yet. But it's apparent in their misery, and rising panic, as they contemplate where they are in their lives.
April wanted to be an actress. Frank didn't know what he wanted to be--he just didn't want to be like his father, a mid-level business guy, which is exactly what he's turned out to be.
They're floating through, losing their youth and the "specialness" they thought made them different from all the other drones they disdain in the suburbs. It's decision time. What are they going to do about their lives?
That's the business of the movie. And I must say, it's pretty spectacular watching it all play out.
Every aspect of this movie is spot-on, from the 1950's clothes (I wanted ALL of April's clothes, and a dress with a daisy pocket worn by another character) and hair and house decor, to the incredible performances. Winslet is, honestly, riveting. And DiCaprio certainly holds his own. But even smaller parts--Frank's secretary, and the "not well" son of a local real estate broker, who serves as the Greek Chorus of the movie--are brilliantly cast. I also loved the music. Simple, yet haunting.
I usually find that it's impossible for a movie to live up to the kind of fan-fare that's surrounded this one. But in this case, it did. Paul and I went out afterward because we had to talk about it. And, today, I'm still thinking about it, still seeing scenes in my head. Is RR my favorite movie if the year? I'm not sure yet. I think I might still prefer The Wrestler--but only by a hair.
For some reason, I was thinking about Shakespeare in Love today. God, I hated that movie. And everyone else loved it. It was bizarre, being on the other side of that cultural divide...seriously. It really pissed people off/concerned people that I didn't like that movie. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine let it be known that she loathed The English Patient, and her boss was so appalled he a) forced her to see it again and b) fired her when she still didn't like it. The other movie I loathed and others loved was Bull Durham. How about any of you? Which hits did you hate? Hmmmmm....?
We've got a sitter lined up so we can see this tomorrow night, and this being NYC, we're getting our tickets early. As a kid, the only movies I ever remember selling out/having a hard time getting into were Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies. But in NYC, Friday and Saturday nights--sometimes even Thursdays--are brutal. Anything pas 6 p.m. gets sold out FAST. Can't tell you how many times we've lined up a sitter only to find there was no way in hell we were getting in to the movie. Last time, it was fortuitous--we ended up seeing Happy-Go-Lucky instead of Slumdog Millionaire. And I ended up loving HGL. But we really want to see Revolutionary Road....so we're planning on being uncharacteristically organized and getting tickets in the a.m. Insane.
As you can see from my earlier review, I don't think Grand Torino is the best thing Clint Eastwood has ever done...but I'm damn glad it's pulling it's weight against Bride Wars at the box office--#1! Go Clint! Go Clint!
I was pretty ready to skip this movie, despite all the hype over Mickey Rourke’s performance. For one, I was never a huge fan of Rourke’s…he was always so creepy. Secondly, the sight of his—the only word I can think of is melting—face in the previews freaked me out. I didn’t think I could spend two hours in its company.
But I sat next to Dana Stevens, film critic for Slate, at a meeting the other day, and she said she really liked the movie. And I trust Dana’s taste. (Check out her top ten of 2008 list.) So I went.
I am so glad I didn’t miss this one. It’s an incredible movie. The Wrestler chronicles the last gasps of Randy the Ram’s career as he wrangles with disability, mortality, success and what it all means.
Rourke, as Randy, is every bit as grotesque as I feared when I watched the previews. Long, straggly bleach blonde hair. Too tan. Overly muscled. Ravaged by abuse and age and steroids. If you made an itemized list of what you, the average viewer, had in common with this man, you’d come up with zero. In fact, it’s almost enough to make you skip the movie, right?
And yet…the movie, Rourke, utterly sucked me in and made me not only care about this hulking wreck, but root for him, and, in a few spots, identify with him, spangly tights and all. I’m not sure how Rourke does it. Maybe it’s the antithetical little details--the sight of that long hair pulled up in a messy, girly bun. (My first thought: “Hey, Randy and I are wearing our hair the same way!”) Maybe it’s the delicate little granny glasses Rourke perches on his nose in order to read the instructions on his prescription bottles.
All these tiny character details build to create a portrait of a f*cked up (to use Randy’s daughter’s words), but sweet and kind man, who wants to be loved and to love, but never quite figured out how it all worked outside the ring. In the end, here’s a guy trying to take stock of his life, trying to make his time here matter, trying to connect. Which left me with the thought—oh yeah, me too. It’s a hell of a self portrait.
My friend--let's just call her Partytape--called my attention to a New York Times article on the vampire movie, Twilight, that generated a bunch of online commentary--more than a thousand responses--on the best horror movies, ever. Take a look and see what you think. Meanwhile, here's my working list....
Halloween. I cut my horror movie teeth on the Halloween movies, so, they make me really nostalgic...not for adolescence, mind you, but the beginning of a certain kind of movie-lover's experience.
The Ring. I caught this one while killing time in a hotel...and it truly scared me. How often does that happen? I like the Japanese version, Ringu, too.
Night of the Living Dead. Also saw it as a teenager--it might have been my first horror movie. I saw it in the gym of the junior high school on a Friday night. And I think I eyed the sliding glass doors we had on two floors of our house (what were my parents thinking? they were a field day for zombies!) with suspicion forever after.
The Birds. You just can't look at a group of birds sitting on a telephone wire, or on a jungle gym, the same way after you've seen this one.
Jaws. Does this count? I can't really decide. It definitely horrified me when it came out--enough so that I was scared of the ocean for...o.k. I'm still scared of the ocean. I'll get in it, but not without a vigilant and constant watch for fins. Oh, and while we're talking sharks, let's not forget Open Water. Shiver.
Did you know that the hotel in The Shining is based on The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado? Stephen King stayed there once (room #217), and was apparently inspired--though the movie wasn't shot there. Meanwhile, The Stanley Hotel shows the original, un-cut version of The Shining on continuous loop on Channel 42 on the guest T.Vs....Which means I need to go stay there...really soon.
Okay, I have a habit of getting a little obsessed. Couple that with the fact that The Shining is on T.V., a mere two days or so since I blogged about a random fact about the movie, and I'm humming along....
I mentioned the annoying kid--Danny Lloyd--in my original post. I actually noticed that, aside from the finger-voice (his finger "talks"....ugh), he's a decent actor. In fact, he's a hell of a lot better than Shelly Duvall, who plays his mother, Jack Nicholson's wife...
What actually fed (feeds) my irritation with him is the special bonus feature of the DVD, which features a behind-the-scenes take on the movie in which the kid comes off about as modest as Russell Crowe...yech
So here's the update on Danny...he now teaches "hard sciences" (I'm quoting IMDB) in Missouri. Ta-da!
Wonder what it's really like to live in India? Got questions about the making of Slumdog? Ask actress Mia Inderbitzin, who plays one of two Americans in the film (Taj Mahal scene). Mia lives in India, and is available to answer questions--as soon as she sees the film, which is just opening in Mumbai. More soon--but shoot me some advance questions for Mia, if you like.
I saw this in the theater and loved it. We bought it and put it away, and I can't even remember the last time we watched it--until now. Paul stuck it in the DVD player the other night and we've since watched it twice, delighting in almost every detail.
I don't know if it any of it is ad-libbed (with Bill Murray, I expect so)...but it is so damn funny and spot on about being a stranger in a foreign country...especially when that country is Japan. It's also very believable on the disconnects within relationships...we're not just talking gaps in communication between people of different nationalities here....enough said. This is a movie more to experience than analyze.
Sofia Coppola (yes, she's his daughter) has an exquisite eye, incredible restraint, and a great sense of humor....Rumor is she hounded Murray for eons until he agreed to be in this movie. It was worth the effort. And I'm not a huge Scarlett Johanssen fan, but she's got mercifully few lines here, and she's beautiful to watch.
Best moments are all Murray's, though. Fabulous movie that translates well to DVD.
The other night Paul and I were in the liquor store looking for a bottle of wine when we noticed one bottle labelled "Evil." The word Evil was printed upside down. I pointed at it and said, "That's so redrum!" And Paul laughed.
It occurred to me that there are some words/phrases that come from movies that are equally obscure, but iconic enough that people get them without explanation.
(And now, for those of you who haven't seen The Shining, I should explain that the word "redrum" is murder spelled backward, and is a key moment in the movie....God, I love that movie...even though the kid in it is annoying.)
I started to wonder what other movie-isms fit this bill--obscure yet iconic and gettable. The only other one I could think of, at the time, was gaslight...I remember a friend of mine talking about "gaslighting" her boss by periodically removing random cards from her filofax (years ago, obviously). Ergo, to gaslight...
(And this, for those who haven't seen it, is from the movie, Gaslight, in which Charles Boyer goes to great lengths to make Ingrid Bergmann thinks she's going nuts.)
We set up a sitter for last night so we could catch a Broadway show, but by the time she arrived, at 4, we were too tired to make the trek up to TKTS for cheap tickets, so we ended up at a movie instead. Which was, I must say, awesome. It gave us, the too-tired parents of a toddler, the illusion of spontaneity (“Hey, let’s go to the movies! Whaddya want to see?”) that we haven’t felt in…awhile!
Paul wanted to see Gran Torino because there’s a Detroit connection—Walt Kowalski, the main character, played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed the movie—is a former Ford factory worker (like Paul’s dad and many of the dads on the block he grew up on).
When we meet Walt, it’s at his wife’s funeral. He’s clearly a curmudgeon—and not a lovable one. After the funeral, we see him at his neatly appointed house, along with his unappealing sons, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and other assorted funeral-goers.
Soon we understand that Walt’s neighborhood, like many of Detroit’s working class suburbs, has been claimed by various immigrant populations. In Walt’s neighborhood, it’s the Hmong, a group of Asians that sided, as one character explains it, “with you guys” during the Vietnam War--and paid for it later. Hence their exodus to the U.S.
To say that Walt isn’t too happy about sharing his turf is putting it mildly. He’s racist, intolerant, angry, gun-happy (Dirty Harry fans will feel a little nostalgic) and burdened by experiences in the Korean War that are mostly only alluded to. The tension of the movie is Walt being forced, via his neighbors, to confront his past—and how he puts his ghosts to rest.
Atonement is a big theme here (the priest hounding him to make confession, the car, the finale---all of which will make sense to you later). But I wish they’d played with it more. In fact, there are a lot of things I wish they’d developed more. Maybe it’s because Eastwood is actually in this movie, and it’s hard to stay on top of everything and play a character. Maybe it’s because Sean Penn wasn’t in this one. (Sean Penn makes just about any movie better...Milk would have been a total snore without him.)
But after Paul and I left the theater, we went out for a drink, talking about the movie all the while. That’s generally a good sign…but many of our comments were along the lines of: “I wish that character hadn’t been quite so friendly right away, it wasn’t totally believable” and “He was just a little too black-and-white curmudgeon to believe the later transition.”
In short…it’s a good movie, an enjoyable ride (though the gun squeamish are going to find themselves watching through their hands at times). But it’s just a hair black-and-white, undeveloped, stereotypical, predictable, at times. Bottom line: It’s good, but it’s no Mystic River.
We just rented Daniel Craig’s first turn at James Bond, “Casino Royale,” and were blown away by it. Here’s a Bond you can actually believe—a little mysterious, a little cruel, and a hint at why. He has a glimmer of a heart, but we don’t see a whole lot of it. But hey…in the end, he’s licensed to kill, right? A trained assassin. This Bond, like no other, makes SENSE.
The second movie, “Quantum of Solace,” which is still in theaters, is also great—though I liked it a tad less than the first one. It’s worth renting the first one before you see “Quantum of Solace”—it’s a sequel.
Whoever is behind this new set of Bond movies has clearly decided they’re going to develop this character, and his stories, in a credible and serious way. The Bond theme is used sparely. The Bond motifs—martinis, shaken, not stirred, etc.—are, if anything, made fun of.
There are no more scenes in which Bond gets tripped up by his Achilles’ heel (or rather, the one Hollywood has developed for him over the years), i.e. the chance at a romp with a gorgeous female.
Nor do we see him getting attached to a lot of them. If anything, he uses them to achieve an end—always spy-related—and appears to feel a little befuddled, and guilty, when they pay the price for his use.
There are also no more goofy double entendres.
What’s left? Great, hair-raising movies. I’ve been bored for years with the limp fare they’ve been trying to pass off as Bond movies. This is a Bond to anticipate.
p.s. Craig has amazing chemistry with Judi Dench as “M.”
I can’t say I was dying to see this one. I didn’t know anything about Harvey Milk. And seeing Sean Penn, who plays him, with his hair matted down in a greasy and unflattering seventies style in the previews and posters didn’t really make me want to know more. But…there’s my rule, anything by Sean Penn. (See the same reasoning afoot in my thoughts on “Doubt,” below.) So….
I respected this movie…but I didn’t love it. I ended up being interested in Milk’s story, even amazed by it. The movie begins on the eve of his fortieth birthday, at a time when he was still a) in the closet and b) not proud of anything he’s done in his life. Over the next eight years, he utterly changes both those facets of his life—becoming, ultimately, a groundbreaking politician who changed the legal framework so prejudiced against gay Americans.
The guy had heart, and guts, and compassion—and sometimes, if the movie is to be believed, they overshadowed his reason a little. (Boyfriend #2, for instance, gives off unstable vibes from the get-go.) As someone who is fortiesh herself, Milk’s story gave me hope that I can still do things that matter. And it made me sad that Milk didn’t get the chance to keep plowing on.
But that’s sort of where the “wow” factor in this movie began and ended for me. (I would also have liked some more information about James Brolin’s character….I could tell he was a crackpot from his first scene, but what kind, and why? No insight there.)
I don’t know, I just felt kind of flat when I left the theater. Nothing like the brain percolation that happened for me after seeing “Doubt.”
Is it an important story to tell? Absolutely. Is it told well? Yes. Is the acting good? Yes, especially Penn. But, in the end, I have to confess, it just didn’t add up to a whole lot of movie experience for me. I wanted to like this movie more than I actually did. Sorry, Sean.
I went to this movie with low expectations. Partly it was some vague sense that it was not getting great reviews (I don’t trust reviews, but it’s hard not to be influenced), and the fact that it’s a movie based on a play. (How often does THAT work out?) It was also seeing the previews…Meryl Streep in a nun’s habit? Being an uber-bitch? Come on!
But…it also starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and, as I’ve said earlier in this blog…I never miss anything he’s in. So, dear reader, I went.
Well…I was wrong. I really loved this movie. It has the spareness—in a good way—of a well written play. (It’s directed by the playwright, John Patrick Shanley, which might explain the loving translation.) There are no extraneous shots or words. Every scene, every line, every camera shot, is meant to tell you something. (Warning: Do not get the big Coke…bathroom break=missing something.)
And the performances—Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the head nun and principal of St. Nicholas School, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the priest, Father Brendan Flynn, and Amy Adams as Sister James, a young nun and a teacher at the school—are wonderful.
But what I love most is that the story of the movie—Sister Aloysius’s accusations regarding Flynn, and the question of whether he abused a boy—are really just vehicles with which to make you ponder the nature of doubt.
A friend asked me, after the fact, if Hoffman’s character did it. “You can spoil it for me,” she said. I told her the truth, “I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.” That’s just the story. This movie is really about ideas.
The movie begins with a great sermon by Hoffman’s character on doubt. And it’s beautiful. And then the story unfolds, leaving you to chew on your questions—what is doubt? What does it mean to live with it? What are you certain about? What is enough certainty to say no, I’m not in doubt. It’s really stunning. When I left the movie, my brain was percolating away...a feeling I loved.
And there are scenes that keep coming back to me—always a sign of a good movie. The gym scene, in which the kids are learning to dance and Sister James is sitting on a nearby chair, watching, and clapping awkwardly. The scene in which Sister Aloysius and Sister James first confront Hoffman. The scene in which Sister James catchers herself becoming Sister Aloysius—and then apologizes to a student.
Really, it’s a gorgeous movie. Not visually, necessarily. We’re talking a Catholic School in the Bronx circa 1964, autumn, and nuns. But it’s gorgeous, nonetheless.
I had the normal upbringing with regard to movies, which is to say I went occasionally but nobody, including me, made too big a deal out of them. That changed in my mid-twenties, when I lived, for a brief and unhappy year, in Chicago. I knew few people, didn’t have a lot of work, was lonely, and needed to entertain myself. I discovered that I loved going to movies alone. That they left me in a contemplative, introspective state of mind that I really enjoyed.
When I moved to New York and began freelancing, I found that going to movies helped me write. I’d review my notes on a story, go to a movie, come back, sit down and the story—which had nothing at all to do with the movie—would just pour out. Maybe I was letting my subconscious work while the rest of my brain enjoyed itself. Maybe it was that contemplative state of mind I was talking about. Who knows? The only thing I really knew for sure was that it worked.
When I was writing my first book, I often saw a movie every morning as a prelude to the afternoon’s work. That meant I saw A LOT of movies, some great, some awful. You can’t be too picky when you’re seeing movies at that pace. My favorite movie experience during that time was when I went to see “Lord of the Rings.”
I had not read the books. It was long. I hadn’t read any reviews—I almost never read reviews (too many spoilers, and the critics’ views have a way of worming their way into your brain). I wasn’t totally thrilled about it, but I had few other choices. It was lunchtime, and on the way I stopped, on impulse, at Murray’s and got a sesame bagel with whitefish salad. And I picked up my customary enormous diet coke on the way in.
Well. The movie was beautiful—it was shot in New Zealand—and enormously entertaining. It had Ian Mackellan in it (a big plus), and the bagel with whitefish salad and (it almost goes without saying) the diet coke were sublime. And it was a LONG movie. So I really got to relish the experience. It was, in short…perfection. And that, my friends, is how this blog--which is, in essence, a movie lover's diary--got its name.