27 February 2011

Spirit Winners & Losers

The Indipendent Spirit Awards were last night and if you missed them have no fear; IFC will play them to death. Host Joel McHale was hilarious. What other awards show would have a cunnilingus joke, let alone one that worked? While he may be no John Waters, McHale proved he has the right stuff for this style of award show.

The biggest loser was the stage. Multiple presenters and winners slipped on the overly shiny set. It was a good idea, the floors were plastered with the nominated movies posters, but the execution was off. When Natalie Portman won Best Actress (yea!), I kept chanting, "Please don't let the pregnant lady fall. Please don't let the pregnant lady fall..."

A faux 'In Memoriam" piece highlighting how attendees may die in the year to come had all the right ideas but was poorly executed. The camera cut to Nia Vardaloos with the headline "My Big Fat Greek Bus Crash" under her name. Samuel L. Jackson- "Motherfucking Snakes". It was funny. Unfortunately, the title cards often didn't match the visual or were very late coming up, leaving us with a confused celebrity staring into the camera for 30 seconds and nothing happening. It was the perfect metaphor for the evening. What is normally a tight show felt a bit sloppy.

Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Actress- "Black Swan" (Heck yea! It needed to win something and this was going to be it come hell or high water!) If I were ever famous or in the movie world, I would kill to work with Darren Aronofsky. He is always so supportive of his actors and crew. It's really lovely to see. I also didn't realize how in danger this film was of never being finished. There were several jokes about the brokers showing up and people not getting paid. As Aronofsky put it, "They're all millionaires now!"
[side note: How cute was Natalie Portman in her kind of mod maternity dress? So cute!]

Best 1st Feature- "Get Low". Anyone, let alone a brand new film maker, who scores Bill Murray in their picture should get some kind of award. Murray is notoriously reclusive to the whole studio system: He has no manager, no agent, no publicist, and no listed number. If you're lucky, someone you know knows his 800-number. You leave a message. Maybe he calls you back, maybe he doesn't. It's brilliant!

John Cassevetes Award- Daddy Long Legs (Looks really depressing)

Best Screenplay- "The Kids Are All Right". I'm also giving this my best acceptance speech honors. Co-writers Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg made jokes about lesbians and each other, sealing it all in a big kiss. So fun!

Best First Screenplay- "Tiny Furniture". The writer is, like, 23 and I hate her. Not really but it's easier this way.

Best Actor- James Franco. Thank you Spirit Awards! Poor thing had to act practically the whole movie by himself with one arm tied behind his back, literally. I also love Colin Firth, and am glad he was not niminated here, but this was one of the best performances of the year. Period.

Supporting Actress- Dale Dickey "Winter's Bone"

Supporting Actor- John Hawkes "Winter's Bone" (yea!). Looks like I'm going to have to see this movie now. It looks super depressing... I love these two actor's though... Crap.

Foreign Film- "The King's Speech"

Best Documentary- "Exit Through the Gift Shop". We were all far too excited when this movie won for our own good. Come on Oscar!

See you guys later after the Oscars!!

26 February 2011

WWQTW?: Diner

Sorry for the delay. This is my review for January's WWQTW? Movie Club. I started a new job at the new year, and it's taking me a bit longer than I anticipated to get back into the groove of blogging. Oh well, better late than never!

***** (5 stars)

Last night was our first meeting of the WWQTW? Movie Club. I really thought we needed a comedy a) because we have never had one yet and b) because now was the time for some laughs. What better way to start the new year than on a high? There were lots of yummy treats including hummus, fresh fruit, chips and dip, mint pea crostini (my creations by way of Jamie Oliver), King Cake (god bless Mardi Gras season), peanut butter pie, cookies, and more wine than we knew what to do with. Needless to say, my liver and stomach where very happy, then very sad with me.

This month's movie was Barry Levinson's "Diner" about a group of twenty-somethings in Baltimore during the '50s. The movie introduced the world to the acting talents of: Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin, and Tim Daly. That's a seriously impressive cast, many of whom hadn't really worked much before. This was also Levinson's first film. He would go on to helm "The Natural", "Good Morning, Vietnam", "Rain Man" (AA- Best Director), "Avalon" (AA nominated), "Sleepers", "Bugsy" (AA nominated), and "Wag the Dog".

Modell (Reiser):  "We all know most marriages depend on a firm grasp of football trivia."

"Diner" is an hilarious movie about becoming an adult, finding love, keeping friends, and just living life. The movie was filmed chronologically for the most part with the diner scenes filmed at the end. Levinson wanted the cast to really feel like friends and many of the best lines were ad libbed as a result. The Popcorn Scene is one of the most famous in the film and has cropped up in pop culture ever since. Rourke bets the guys he can get the dream girl to feel him up at the movies. He takes the bet mostly because he's in a bad way over some gambling losses, but it's also a pretty telling moment for her character. Once in the theater, he unbuttons his pants and puts his penis up through the bottom of the popcorn box. When his date reaches in, she gets the shock of her life and Rourke losses the bet on a technicality. So funny!

Tim (Bacon): "All I did was I parked the car on a nice lonely road, I looked at her, and I said fuck or fight."

"Diner" is one of those movies your parents love because they were living that time and feel nostalgic, but it holds up. Not just since it's release in 1982, but as a movie about the past. Everyone can identify with the problems and humor that each character faces. We all know the cocky guy, the shy guy, the sports nut, the juvenile, the married guy, the funny one, etc. Because we can identify, we fall in love with the characters easily and stay in love even though we ourselves grow up and move from one label to the next. It is a great movie (with equally great soundtrack) that should be on every one's list.

25 February 2011

Erin go Bragh!

St. Patrick's Day is coming up fast and so is my holiday to the Motherland; which got me thinking about movies of course. Ireland has suffered in the eyes of the foreign and domestic market as the bastard step-child of Great Britain. Certainly, the Republic makes fewer films and many of their actors and directors leave for England and the BBC or America. In recent years there has been a bit of a resurgence of Irish film making, though most of it focuses on "the troubles" or the mythology of the land. Hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it, right?

I've compiled an incomplete list of my favorite in Irish cinema. Incomplete in that I got tired scrolling through Netflix which lumps the Republic in with all of G.B. That's a lot of unrelated searching!

Once- One of the best in the new crop of Irish films, "Once" tells the story of a busker (Glen Hansard, "The Commitments") who falls for a Russian immigrant he meets on the street. Their love story is cut short when she reveals she is already married, though he is back home. A beautiful story of a relationship.

The Commitments- Love it or hate it, this movie introduced a large audience to the relateable plight of the Irish middle and lower classes. A group of motley young people (many actual musicians and singers, not actors) band together to bring rock and soul to the Dublin masses. Amazing soundtrack.

Circle of Friends- Arguably a "chick flick", this movie wonderfully expresses the average Irish post-conflict and pre-renaissance. Catholicism dominates social settings and moral values. People work hard to attain what others barely work for. Here we see the growing class system, not found in Ireland until more recent times. The biggest problem with this movie is Chris O'Donnel's accent. It's not bad per se, just distracting. This also introduced us to Minnie Driver as Benny, the protagonist and every-woman.

Intermission- An example of the modern Irish film community, "Intermission" takes it's cues from the films of Robert Altman, Quentine Tarantino, and even Hitchcock. Parallel story lines intersect in this story of love, loss, tragedy, and comedy. Think of it as the Irish "Crash". Colin Farrell returns to his roots here and is amazing as is then newcomer Cillian Murphy.

Wind that Shakes the Barley- (adapted from this previous post) Directed by British wunderkind Ken Loach starring Cillian Murphy, shows us a side of the Irish independence conflict that we never see: What happened outside the cities, in the towns and villages across Ireland. The struggle for Irish freedom was famously fought in Dublin, but the heart of the war raged on in the fields. I loved it- it's quietness, the cinematography, everything. I've heard talk that some in Ireland are unhappy with Loach's representation of The Troubles, but I wonder if that doesn't have more to do with his being English that anything else. Personally, I felt it bathed the Irish people in a noble and strong light.

Michael Collins- There's something almost poetic about a Northern Irish lad (Liam Neeson) portraying one of the most important figures in modern Irish culture. Collins led the IRA and was crucial in the establishment of the Treaty of 1921which granted Ireland its independence as a free state from England. This is the movie I recommend to anyone looking to learn more about the freedom movement. Even American actors Aidan Quinn and Julia Roberts hold their own, accents and all (though poor Julia does have to work harder to overshadow her international movie star image).

Hunger- Let's keep the ball running with this film also about the struggles, these set in the more modern resistance hunger strikes of 1981. Northern IRA leader Bobby Sands (the incredible Michael Fassbender) leads the inmates at Maze prison on a hunger strike when their 'special category status' was removed. This status afforded those arrested due to "Troubles"-related offenses received the same or similar rights of other POW's. Once removed, they were routinely starved, beaten, humiliated, etc. The strike lasted over 5 weeks and resulted in 10 inmate deaths. This is a brutal film that requires the right state of mind and probably a bottle of wine, though it is one of the best I've seen.

Boondock Saints- Hard to have a list of Irish movies without mentioning this cult status gem. Not an Irishman amongst them, this movie still depicts the Irish mentality of family and commitment rather well. It's also seriously funny and entertaining ("I'm an expert in name-ology"). Too bad director Troy Duffy turned out to be an asshat.
Angela's Ashes- Okay, the last of the really depressing titles I promise! The autobiographical story of author Frank McCourt's families struggle out of poverty in pre-war Limmerick. What could have been the typical drunk Irish, poor potato eating, sad sack tale; is instead uplifting in the power of dreams and family.

Ondine- See review by clicking on title.

The Crying Game- It would be impossible not to include this film from Irish bad boy Neil Jordan that introduced the world to the surprise ending motif now so popular in films. I'll save it from you in case you have not seen this movie, in which case you should put it in your queue asap, and instead tell you its the story of the relationship between IRA member Fergus (always amazing Stephen Rea) and his British prisoner (equally always amazing Forest Whitaker). When things go wrong Fergus escapes to London to set things right but winds up in a bigger entanglement than he started in. Winner for best screenplay and nominated for numerous other awards. [side note: Jordan is also an accomplished novelist and I highly recommend his book "Shade" to get you started.]

High Spirits- Another one form Neil Jordan, this time a broad comedy. Again, you either love this movie or hate it. A group of American tourists come to stay at Castle Plunkett, a rundown, about to be foreclosed, and haunted castle. The bad luck- it's not actually haunted. The good luck- it really is! I think this was the first time I saw Liam Neeson and just fell in love instantly.

The Secret of Roan Inish- The Irish have a rich mythology to rival the Greeks. To this day, the legends are known and told to children. Building off the legend of Selkies as well, this film is great for anyone with kids or who just want to be a kid again for a couple hours. Young Fiona is sent to live with relatives on the coast in Donegal. After hearing the Selkie legend, she begins to see one on the beaches. Is she real or just in her imagination?

Into the West- One of my favorite movies when I was younger. Two brothers inherit a horse they believe to be a Pooka, or guide to the underworld; that will take them to their dead mother. When the horse is lost, the boys set out on an adventure across Ireland to find her.
About Adam- Okay, I know what you're thinking, "What the heck is a Kate Hudson movie, let alone one where she's expected to have a decent accent, doing on this list?" Well, I'm sorry to tell you this movie is actually pretty good. Certainly in the more lady friendly category, but the twists will keep even men entertained (and is a great movie to show your girlfriend)! Hudson's character falls in love with Steward Townsend. Unfortunately, so do her two sisters, her brother, and her brother's girlfriend! Who is Adam actually in love with if anyone?

Leprechaun- I'm just making sure you're still with me. The mischievous leprechaun folklore gets a shake up in this tale starring Jennifer Aniston (pre-nose job? Allegedly?) who is chased by the titular character who believes she stole his pot of gold. Oh, this was one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday growing up, watching whatever bad horror movies were playing on USA, TBS, and the like.

15 February 2011

Orange BAFTA Awards

First off, why are they orange? I've never understood this or, it seems, cared enough to look it up on wikipedia. Oh well... The British Academy of Film and Television Awards was broadcast Sunday on BBC America. I like the BAFTA's. They are an intimate affair and speech's are not cut off for time. Of course, they only broadcast the biggest awards so there is little fear they will go over the two and a half hours allotted.

Who won? Should we care?
The winners are usually British heavy and they rarely stray from the other awards shows that have already happened. That being said, there are usually a few surprise winners; usually those who have done good work but will not receive the Oscar.
Best Picture, Best British Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress, and Best Music went to "The King's Speech" naturally. Just another notch in the belt towards an Oscar win for Best Picture. I don't think Geoffry Rush will with the Oscar, but then he must not have thought he would win this one as he wasn't there. Helena Bonham Carter gave a lovely speech:

Best Director went to David Fincher and Best Adapted Screenplay to Aaron Sorkin. If they're not in your Oscar pool, they should be. Inception won Special Effects, Art Direction, and Sound; True Grit- Best Cinematography; Costumes when to "Alice in Wonderland" in a bit of a surprise, but the other nominees were a bit lacking.

Rising Star Award
One of the things I love about the BAFTA's is their recognition of young talent. The Orange Rising Star Award is voted on my the public from a short list put together by some of the most interesting names in film today (Tom Ford was on the committee this year). Past winners have included Kristen Stewart, Shia LeBeouf, and James McAvoy. This years nominees were Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, Gemma Arterton ("Quantum of Solace", "Prince of Persia"), and Aaron Johnson ("Kick- Ass"). The winner was Tom Hardy ("Inception", "Bronson"). Unfortunately, he wasn't there to pick up his neon orange drama head either. Boo!

Special Honors
Sir Christopher Lee received the Academy Fellowship, a type of lifetime achievement award. He was very lovely receiving it and it was almost hard to believe he is 88 until he slowly walked out on the stage. How amazing that he is still working, and even more so that there is such love for his earlier Hammer films!

The Harry Potter franchise received a special Contribution to British Film award. They really do deserve it. Before HP, who would have thought England could produce such a large spectacle. That was American territory! Instead, they have produced a truly multi-cultural affair that has forever changed the face of not only British cinema, but movies the world over.

Best Moment
Rosamund Pike and Dominic Cooper presenting Best Original Screenplay. I'm still not sure if she was a tip pissed (i.e. drunk), or just nervous but the whole thing was a disaster. The worst (read: best) part was when she opened the envelope and almost read the winner before the nominees were even announced. Cooper looked like he might fall over and die. Jonathan Ross (talk show host and MC) ran over and slammed his hand on the envelope. It was hilarious!

12 February 2011

Me & Orson Wells

*** (3.5 stars)

Me and Orson Wells has been on my "Rent it" list since it came out. My interest peaked when Christian McKay (the upcoming Showtime series "Borgia") started garnering nominations for his performance of Orson Wells from the BAFTA's and Spirit Awards. Then, it just kind of left my mind completely. Until, that is, my friend and movie buddy got it in the mail. Exhausted from a long day of shopping, we piled in front of the TV with enough food to kill an army.

"Orson Wells" centers on Richard (Zac Efron, not remotely annoying in this which may actually be annoying), a 17 year old high school student with dreams of becoming an actor. Or painter. Or writer. Or all around renaissance man. As luck and chance would have it, he runs into Orson Wells outside the Mercury theatre just weeks before his interpretation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" is set to open. He impresses him with his charm and lack of embarrassment into a small part in the play. Richard is in awe of everything, but nothing more so than Wells assistant; the comely Sonja (Claire Danes). She comes on to him much to the chagrin of the other cast members and he learns valuable life lessons. The movie is directed by Richard Linkater ("Dazed & Confused", "School of Rock") for some reason and based on the novel by Robert Kaplow.

The movie takes a while to get into. It's staged like a play (I didn't know it was a book before, but wondered about it out loud while watching), and is acted and shot in a way that is both parodying and applauding studio films of the late 30s and 40s. Danes seems pulled in two directions with her acting. Her head baubles with each line as if she has a nervous disorder. It's distracting, but when she stops doing it (though only momentarily) she is very genuine. I like her. Maybe it's because I was obsessed with "My So-Called Life". Maybe because she is a plain girl, that is to say she looks like someone you might know; that I am drawn to her movies.

McKay is instantly recognizable as Wells- the pre-movie Wells that was the dapper gentleman of Broadway. The man who would turn the film world upside down for the next 70 years. He is a shadow puppet unfortunately. A man who seems to be acting all the time, but who also seems to be doing it on purpose. I don't know a lot about Wells except that he was a bit of a tyrant and perfectionist. McKay is immediately burdened with playing a character so identifiable in our minds for playing characters.

Eventually, the movie won me over (a bit) and I appreciated the relationships between the characters, the winks and nods to real life powerhouses in Hollywood and New York, and the music. It is an interesting movie if you are a fan of old Hollywood and the theatre or if you are just a pervy lady who likes to stare at Zac Efron- no judging. Otherwise, I fear you may be bored or disappointed.

06 February 2011

High Tension

***** (5 stars)

Modern France isn't really known for its horror movies. Sure, Polanski turned out some creepy hits in the 70s, but since then it's been pretty hit or miss. According to Netflix, the only foreign horror comes from Italy and Asia. Thankfully, there must be something in the water over there because the rest of Europe is slowing catching the fever. My love for Scandinavian horror has been well documented, so I'm focusing on my first love in the foreign language market- The French. Martyrs, In My Skin, Malefique, Le Pacts des Loups, The Pack, Frontiers, Inside, and others are working to change that perception. Enter "High Tension" (Haute Tension), one of the best horror films I've ever seen period. The seemingly simple story takes an unexpected twist that will remain in your subconscious forever.

Friends Marie (Cécile de France, "Hereafter", "L'auberge espagnole") and Alex (Maïwenn, "The Fifth Element") escape to the family farm to focus on studying for exams. No sooner are they tucked in for the night than a crazed man enters the home and kills the whole family, taking Alex hostage. Now, it is up to Marie to save her friend before the unthinkable happens.

Writer/Director Alexandre Aja has a bit of a hit or miss resume with this, his second feature, the somewhat high point. After its success, he went on to direct "The Hills Have Eyes" remake, "Mirrors" and "Piranha". He also wrote the forgettable "P2". His strong point is certainly style and the ability to overcome budget restraints, but he needs to work on polishing his writing skills and developing projects that will push his career forward. His relationship with writing partner and art director Gregory Levasseur blurs the line between director and crew. Who was in charge of this thing?

While trying desperately not to give anything away, the biggest complaint I've heard about this film is the twist. You either love it or hate it. Personally, I thought it elevated the film past cheap gore and into the psychological realm I enjoy so much. POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT (roll over to see): You must remember that the story we are originally told is from the mind of Marie. By revisiting the opening scene of her in the hospital at the end, we can see how her mental break shaped the story we saw and are left to wonder what elements are true and what was imagined. Aja hints at this himself in the bonus features when he talks of casting Philippe Nahon as the killer. How would you imagine a serial killer to look like?

The casting is impeccable. de France is one of my favorite young actresses in Europe right now. She has the ability to exude both fragility and strength, often in the same breath. Maiween is an actress I am less familiar with but who has an especially difficult scene towards the end that kept my hand clasped over my mouth the whole time. Philippe Nahon is a genius who has starred in over 150 films and TV. His resume reads like a who's who of French cinema. He has worked with everyone! Check him out in "I Stand Alone", "Le Pacts des Loups", and "Calvaire". He plays the killer very close to the chest, with holding any sings of motivation  or insanity. Instead, he is the face of death only- solid, stoic, fucking creepy!

Depending on your tolerance level, "High Tension" will either scare the bejeezus out of you or simple amuse you. My best friend warned that she still has nightmares over the movie and found it difficult to get to sleep after seeing it. Call me intrigued! Unfortunately, I did not have that reaction. Truth be told, this movie served as a palette cleanser after I watched a documentary about animal rights. That was far more disturbing! Still, I appreciated the lack of pretense this movie offered. There was no long story drawn out before the real horror begins. Our heroine Marie is also a pretty smart cookie. Unlike other women in horror films, she doesn't fall down a lot, she doesn't cry in the corner, she doesn't run away. She is smart and methodical. In the moments after the killer has broken in, I was impressed to see how she handled herself and thought,  "That's what I would do!".

The movie is to be seen to be believed, and it should be seen by everyone with the stomach for it!

05 February 2011

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and what better way to bask in wonder of your loved one or plot their demise than with a movie marathon. I know just what you need to enjoy/feel better about the day:

When You're in Love:

* Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset- In "Before Sunrise", Ethan Hawke meets the lovely Julie Delpy on a train and they spend the evening falling in love. Of course, it's doomed to end. Now, before you grab for your hankie; the sequel picks up 9 years later when the two bump into each other in France. They spend the day together and reminisce about that one night in Vienna. Are they ready now to give in to love? I love the sequel more than the original, but if you haven't seen either now is the time. Richard Linklater ("Dazed and Confused", "Slacker") at his most romantic.

* Titanic- Why do people in love relish a good tragedy? I have no idea, but this movie tops the list for sappy young women reliving their youth while simultaneously torturing their significant other.

* Wall-E- I'm not a huge fan of animated movies. When I was younger I thought I would always love cartoons like my Dad does. Unfortunately, as I got older the cartoons got worse. "Wall-E" is the exception. A beautiful story about not only romantic love but love for our planet.

* Good Will Hunting- How do you like them apples?

* Jules et Jim- Can a love triangle stand the test of time? If you're Jeanne Moreau and this in 1960s France, you bet your bonnet!

* Edge of Love- When love triangles go wrong. Who will win, the wife or the fist love?

* Annie Hall- One of my top 10 movies of all time, it reminds me that Woody Allen is talented even if he is recently misguided in his efforts. It also showcases his most natural romance on film with the titular character, a bohemian modern day suffragette played by Diane Keaton.

* Amelie- The French really know romance. Who wouldn't like this whimsical tale of a shy Parisian girl who lures her crush in with kooky games and a travelling gnome? Communists maybe.

* Secretary- For the kinkier in love set there is no greater movie.

* Garden State- For the hipster, introspective types.

* Brokeback Mountain- I'm still pissed this didn't win Best Picture at the Oscars, but I can get my revenge by making everyone I know see it. A beautiful and tragic love story. Is there any other kind?

* Almost Famous- Maybe you're not in love this V-day, but you're not all homicidal either. A boys love for music and his first real crush on a girl converge in one of the best soundtracks of all time.

* Benny & Joon- Oh Johnny Depp, what can't you do?

When You're Out of Love:

* Singles- You're 20s are defined by a series of one-night stands, flings, first loves, and singledom. This movie wraps it all up in a perfect, mid 90s, plaid bow.

* Swingers- Depending on your gender, this is either a cautionary tale or an awesome adventure. Either way, the fast paced, witty dialogue and who's who of actors make it one of the best comedies ever.

* Chasing Amy- At least your love life isn't this complicated.

* The Sweetest Thing- Every lady I know loves this movie and for good reason. It's hilarious, depicts female relationships in a realistic way, and the love interest is almost secondary to the friendship between the three leads. Did I mention it's hilarious?

* High Fidelity- Grab a box of Kleenex and your crate of records and tuck into the best break-up movie ever. See also, killer soundtrack.

* Heavy- Just seeing the trailer for this movie makes me tear up. Plump Pruitt Taylor Vance works at his mother's diner/bar. When the lovely Liv Tyler shows up looking for a job, his life is forever altered.

* The Thing Called Love- Samantha Mathis wants to be a country song writer, her roommate Sandra Bullock fancies herself a singer. River Pheonix and Durmot Mulrroney get in the way. Love this movie about heartbreak!

* The Virgin Suicides- The title says it all.

* Closer- The undeniable wretchedness of people is explored with amazing performances by all. I was numb after watching this movie and highly recommend that feeling this time of year.

* All the Real Girls- David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express") used to make really personal, intimate films like this one about a womanizer who falls for his best friends sister. Can people change? Would you want them to?

* (500) Days of Summer- How about a Zooey Deschanel mini-marathon? The trajectory of a doomed relationship is chronicled.

* Le Divorce- Maybe it's because I'm a girl, or maybe because I love period dramas and comedies, but I love Merchant Ivory films. this one got a lot of slack when it came out, but it's a nice adaptation of the book about a young woman in the midst of divorcing her French husband when he gets murdered. What divorcee hasn't thought about that? Naomi Watts is wonderful of course, and the only let down is Mathew Modine chewing up the scenery as per usual.

What are your favorite movies when you are in or out of love?