26 April 2011

My Cinematic Alphabet

Last month, one of my favorite movie blogs, "Rupert Pupkin Speaks", created his list of the best movies A-Z. I thought this sounded like a lot of fun and a challenge, but I had no idea how difficult it would be. How do I choose just one movie per letter? I can barely come up with a response to the question, "What's your favorite movie?" (I used to say "Paper Moon" just to be a bit of s snob, but truth be told it's probably "Vivre sa Vie" or "Heavy". See! I can't even pick one in my own blog and I still sound like a snob!). To make it easier, I picked the first movie that came to mind or grabbed my attention. It's interesting how many of them are somewhat personal to me; either in content or by association with a particular memory or person.

So, here goes:

A- All That Jazz

B- Bell, Book, and Candle

C- Cafe au Lait

D- Dr Zhivago

E- Edward Scissorhands

F- Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

G- Ginger Snaps

H- Heavy

I- Immortal Beloved

J- Jason and the Argonauts

K- Killer Klowns from Outer Space

L- Last Days of Disco

M- Mallrats

N- Night Watch

O- Orlando

P- Pulp Fiction

Q- Quartermass and the Pit

R- The Red Violin

S- The Salton Sea

T- Tank Girl

U- Uncertainty

V- Vivre sa Vie

W- What About Bob?

X- X: The Unheard Music

Y- Yojimbo

Z- Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

22 April 2011

I Can See You But You Can't See Me

Somehow, a group of us got to talking about songs about stalking. You know the kind that sound really nice then you listen to the lyrics and realize the singer is probably fantasizing about wearing your skin like a coat. Those songs! We came up with a few and then were distracted, probably by a shiny object. Thankfully, the internet didn't let me down so I present to you a list of the best creepy, stalker-ific songs out there!

"Every Breath You Take"- Police- The granddaddy of them all! Sting wrote it shortly after his divorce. Wonder what he was thinking...

"One Way or Another"- Blondie- Gotta love a woman scorned.

"Someone Like You" - Adele- "I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited. But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it. I hoped you'd see my face and be reminded. That for me it isn't over." Oh girl, no.

"I Want You to Want Me"- Cheap Trick- Remember that commercial, I want to say it was for a credit card; about this perfect guy who knew all the lyrics to this song and we're watching him sing it in the shower? Yea, they got it.

"Run For Your Life"- The Beatles- "Rubber Soul" is my favorite Beatles album, hands down. There's also something about John Lennon singing about doing bad things to his girlfriend while she was running around on him that gives me pause... I don't know why it seems weird. According to Wikipedia, this was George Harrison's favorite song. Since he's my favorite Beatles, it seems it was meant to be!

"I Drove All Night"- Cyndi Lauper- Maybe it's the lady in me, but I always imagined this was about a girl going to see her long-distance boy friend and surprise him with morning sex. How could that be bad? Then I started making this list and it all changed for me. Damned list! Ruining another great love song!

"Sunglasses at Night"- Corey Hart- Yea, this song is creepy no matter which way you slice it. Pun intended.

"Private Eyes"- Hall & Oates- Okay, maybe Oates is a private detective. Or, maybe he's lost his crackers and just thinks he is.

"I Will Possess Your Heart"- Death Cab for Cutie- "There are days when outside your window, I see my reflection as I slowly pass. And I long for this mirrored perspective, when we'll be lovers, lovers at last."  Girls are dumb. If a guy said any of these things to us we'd probably melt on the spot.

"I Will Follow Him"- Lesley Gore- Whether you're stalking some guy you casually met at a sock hop or the Lord, desperation is not a good scent.

"Possession"- Sarah McLachlan- Apparently, the lyrics come from real letter she received from a crazy fan who then sued her and committed suicide. Talk about stalker!

"Hungry Like the Wolf"- Duran Duran- Stalker or just another horny guy at the club?

"Pictures of You"- The Cure- Robert Smith says this song literally about looking at pictures of his wife. Boring! I like it better if I imagine a "Seven" or "Silence of the Lambs" kind of thing.

"Possum Kingdom"- The Toadies- A note to ladies: Do not go wandering into the woods or other remote areas with strangers, I don't care how good looking they may be. That is all.

"Alison"- Elvis Costello- Oh those crazy exes... "I think somebody better put out the big light, cause I can't stand to see you this way. Alison, I know this world is killing you. Oh, Alison, my aim is true."

"A Little Piece of Heaven"- Avenged Sevenfold- Um... I must be disturbed, because I really love this song. It's sexy in a "Devil's Rejects"/horror movie kind of way. Dude is so worried his girl is going to leave him he kills her, then himself, and they get married in hell. How Burton-esque.

"Walking After You"- Foo Fighters- Come now Dave Grohl. Let me comfort you. Leave that other girl alone. You'll be fine, you're a rock star! Cheer up, Buttercup!

"Happy Together"- The Turtles- Totally ruins the old "other fish in the sea" cliche.

"I Put A Spell on You"- Various- If you want to avoid jealous wrath; then don't cheat, just break up!

"Never Gonna Give You Up"- Rick Astley- Maybe she's a free spirit Rick, like Holly Holiday (yes, I totally just made a "Glee" reference. What are you gonna do about it?!) Gives getting "rick rolled" a whole new meaning.

"Until You Come Back to Me"- Aretha Franklin- Who would walk out on the Queen of Soul and fear endangering her wrath?

"#1 Crush"- Garbage- I think there are a lot of guys, and let's be honest, a lot of women; who wouldn't mind Shirley Manson trying to win them over.

Why aren't there more modern songs on this list? I feel like we're missing an incredible opportunity to both right the new "Every Breath You Take" and reference Facebook at the same time. Where's my song about cyber stalking your ex? Come on emo kids! Country music stars!

19 April 2011

Kelly Canter and Jesus Christ

*** (3.5 stars)

For a movie I had no real intention of seeing, "Country Strong" really surprised me. I was anticipating something horrible I could laugh at while drinking a bottle of wine with a friend. Instead, what I got was a thoughtful though flawed film.

Gwenyth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a Shania Twain/grown-up Carrie Underwood type with more demons than talent. Once again in rehab, she meets handsome orderly Beau, also an aspiring singer. When Kelly's husband-manager (never a good hyphenate) comes to get her a month early to start touring, she convinces him to take Beau with them on the road. Is obvious what will happen next, but it doesn't really matter. Unlike "CrazyHeart", our protagonist here is far more likable. She's someone you may know or have met- a woman married too young, suffering too much from and for her work, and lost inside her personal demons. The ending shocked me. I think I slapped my friend!

The stand out here is Garrett Hedlund ("Tron: Legacy") and actual country superstar Tim McGraw. McGraw has carved out a nice second career with acting. He's expressive and sincere in his acting, all the more impressive as his character is without a doubt the nemesis of the film. Hedlund left a budding impression in "Tron", and he's so much better here. He walks away with every scene he is in, and I would buy any record he put out.

A lot of people claim to hate country music. That's fair, we don't all have to like everything. But I guarantee those people like a country artist- Johnny Cash, early Elvis, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings. There's a song or two on their iPod for sure. Growing up in Texas you would think I would have a greater appreciation for country than say, someone from New York. That isn't the case. I was raised by Yankees and as such, country music was never really played in the house. However, I couldn't escape the above artists and others growing up. It's the new wave of country that annoys me. I don't like it's pop sound, as if it's trying to convince us it's something it isn't. Be country! I love bluegrass and the new alt-folk scene that's cropped up across the country. I like the music in this film because it's the perfect blend of both worlds- a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. (I think I totally lose some point for quoting a Donny & Marie song though). Beau's songs are the most honest and classic. Young ingenue Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) is the current Carrie Underwood type. She's got a surprisingly good voice, but she doesn't really blossom until she meets Beau. My biggest complaint with her was that I didn't believe the growth of the character in so short a time span. Worse, I can't tell if it's the writing or her acting that caused this reaction.

The biggest problem with this movie is the story. I appreciate when a film drops us into the middle of the story, but you still have to flesh out the characters. If all roads lead to Dallas, as they do in this movie, then that scene must pop, must resonate, must be recognized as the pinnacle of the film. That a sold out show at the American Airlines Center can feel flat is a real feat. Hedlund rescues the movie time and again with his Honest Beau routine. I'm excited for his career and hope he continues to make interesting choices.

Writer/Director Shana Fest has made a solid sophomore movie (her first, the family tragedy/drama "The Greatest" is available on DVD) and if she can sharpen her storytelling skills, her career may continue. Unfortunately, that's a tall order in the film industry. You've got to make money when given the chance or at the very least create something a core audience and critics will like.

I'm glad I saw this movie, it was a lot better than expected. However, it made me long for better crafted (country) music movies like "The Thing Called Love" or "Nashville". If you have or had any interest, rent it. If you never cared, you may be surprised but you're more likely going to like something else.

08 April 2011


**** (4.5 stars)

I went to a screening last night and fell in love, almost immediately, with “Hanna”. Every scene is important to building the story of a young girl trained to fight, and fed on revenge for the death of her mother.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father (Eric Bana) have lived in the arctic woods since she was a child. In that time, he has expanded her education past the World Books they read nightly, to include hunting, fighting, and survival. All of this is in preparation for the day she decides she is ready to face her nemesis, Marissa Weixler (Cate Blanchett); a CIA operative that killed her mother.

There have been movies before, and I'm sure after, that follow the struggles of a person raised away from society. The introduction of new words, new friends, music, animals, places; but here it never feel like a gimmick. Through the brilliant acting of Saoirse Ronan and great writing, we feel almost as if we're experiencing these things for the first time as well. While on the run, Hanna meets up with a family of British tourists who take her in. These are the first friends and people she has had real, true contact with in her life. It’s heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time.

There's a bit of a divot in Cate Blanchett's performance, but I'm not sure it's her fault. How do I criticize what I also loved about the movie? That is, it's refusal to fill in the holes and missing pieces of the back story. We know what we need to know to move the story along, no more, no less. Still, I wish I knew more about what motivated her. Why, after all these years is she still stung by the one that got away? Why is she so evil? And, she really is. Blanchett plays her like a Southern mother that spits venom.

Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”, “Pride & Prejudice”) breaks out of his sober shell to create action sequences that rival the Bourne movies. The stylized fight sequences are brutal, though the mix of camera techniques could be distracting to those of us that pay attention to such things. DP Alwin Kuchler (“Morwan Caller”, “Sunshine”) has perfected this style of tight shots that seem to drift down to the audience. We never feel preached too, though we know exactly who is testifying. However, the editing keeps the action tight and on line. It’s violence that acts itself out, but is never gratuitous.

That the Chemical Brothers scored the movie seemed a bit weird to me at first, like a watered down “Tron: Legacy”, but I have to say they did an exceptional job. The music alerts us to the action ahead, but doesn’t over take it (hello Bourne) or foreshadow too greatly.

All in all, I highly recommend this movie to everyone. Go see it!