Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life: Memorable Goodbyes

Well the end of the year has come (school year that is).  As I have mentioned before in my blog I work for a college, and people who work in education tend to measure their year on a different scale.  This "year" time span begins in either August and September and ends in April, May, or June.  I will be finishing up a masters degree in college student personnel in six days.  So in 6 days I will not be throwing my hat in the air (cliche), but soon after that I will be saying goodbye to close friends with whom I will not see as often as I have within the past two years.  This made me think about the way people have said goodbye in the movies, and how heart wrenching it can be to walk away from something.
Saying goodbye often makes a person feel as though there has been a death.  There is this immense feeling of sorrow, and loss.  Terms of Endearment (1983) has to have some of the saddest goodbye scenes when it comes to death.  As Emma says goodbye to her children and her mother, you can't help but reach for the tissues.  I know when I drive away from Bowling Green, Ohio I will feel a sadness, as though something has been taken out of my life forever, but like in the film the characters have memories that will fill their heart with joy. James L. Brooks (the director and writer) makes you understand how death forces some of the most painful goodbyes.

As Elliot says goodbye to E.T. in the E.T. (1982) you can't help but realize that even those two were different (one being an alien) they formed this fast friendship in a short time, and will forever remember the impact they had on one another.  With saying goodbye, remembering that even through differences strong friendships can remain the same even if it feels like they far away (in this films case maybe galaxies) and you will never see them again.  Spielberg is a genius and captures the true elements of great friendship in this film.

Where do we go from here?  In 2003 Lost in Translation poses the question (and doesn't let us here a part of the story) about where this friendship/relationship is going.  Will we all remain friends?  What will happend to our relationship after this unique bonding experience? Charlotte (Johansson) and Bob (Murray) interact with each other while in Japan as they find themselves both lost in their lives.  They cling together and form a bond, but at the end of the film Sofia Coppola doesn't give us a specific direction of the direction of their friendship.  When you say goodbye to something or someone there are so many ambiguous moments and unanswered questions and you just have to let fate determine where life will take you.

"O captain my captain"  these immortal words are uttered in the film Dead Poets Society (1989) in honor of John Keating (Robin Williams) a teacher who was ahead of his time and forced to resign.  Saying goodbye to a mentor can be just as painful as saying goodbye to a friend.  Teachers help you to learn and grow about who you are as person.  In this film Keating challenges these students to rebel and think about who they are.  I will miss the people who have guided me on two year journey here, and hope that just because I am leave I can continue learning from them.

The film Casablanca (1942) has the best depiction of saying goodbye when you are being selfless and letting go so others can move on.  Moving on is the hardest part of saying goodbye.  For me I will not be saying goodbye forever from my close friends here, but our lives will change and we live in different places and meet different people and have different experiences.  Sure we may run into each other again, we will have even more changes that take place in our lives and have new people.   Rick and Ilsa had said goodbye twice.  In the film they see each other for the first time in a while and those feelings come back, and we get to see the memory of their first encounter.  In the end I will not be letting go of my friends to save them from Nazis but I may have to let go of the fact that things just may never be the same.

Now in this day of technology-it will be a lot easier for me to stay in touch with people, so:

"Let’s not say goodbye, let’s just say au revoir."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Performer to Watch: Anika Noni Rose

Tony award winner for featured actress in a musical in the musical Caroline, or Change, Anika Noni Rose has tremendous potential to become a great big screen talent.  Rose has done a lot of work in television throughout her career, on shows like The Good Wife, and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but it was her voice that caught my attention.  Rose can belt out a tune, and boy should her talents be used a lot in the future, and she can act.

I first saw Rose as Lorrell in the film version of Dreamgirls.  In the film Lorrell is not as glamorous a role as Deena or Effie, but Rose made Lorrell so deep and she was great in this film. Her chemistry with Eddie Murphy's Jimmy Early was magnetic and when she finds out what has happened to him at the end and breaks down, you can really feel her pain and anguish.  Sure, J-Hud's voice was terrific and powerful, but Rose's quieter performance was so commanding and unforgettable I wanted to see her in more.

In 2009 she lent her voice to the first traditional animated Disney film in a long time, The Princess and the Frog. In this film she gave her voice to the lead character Tiana, which was also first black Disney princess.  Rose does some great acting and her singing is just as powerful.  This is one of my favorite animated Disney movies, and even through her voice you feel the emotions of her character.

One year later Rose took on the powerful role of Yasmine/Yellow in For Colored Girls.  In this movie she plays a dance teacher who starts dating a man and after their date in her home he ends up raping her.  The subject matter is intense, and Tyler Perry takes the material to a melodramatic level, but Rose is believable in her role that you feel her pain as the victim.

With great roles in television and film I hope Rose continues to gain future ground, as she is talented and has a lot of potential to do great things.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Movies and Technology: From 3-D to CGI, the Good and the Bad

Well I just bought a new I-phone today and well it has inspired me to talk about the use of technology in film and how throughout the years movies have used this to: help make money or waste people's money, and create films that will help advance the process of making films.

The latest trend (although it is not so much about new technology) is the use of 3-D in film.  The "goal" of the production company is to pull the audience into the film more and breakdown the walls bringing them into the actual film so they feel a part of what is going on on-screen.  This will lead to 4-D in the future and has influenced the invention of 3-D television viewing because of the growing technology that keeps people actively involved.  My own analysis is that it is a way for companies to make more money from their viewing audience.  I went to see Toy Story 3 in 3-D (it was hard to find a theatre that was just play a regular version of the film in NYC).  It was a waste of the extra money I had to pay this being filmed in 3-D was pointless, there have been a handful of films that make me laugh when the advertiser says "in Imax and Imax 3-D.  The summer months are almost upon and I have found myself researching and looking up films that will not be shown in 3-D so a) I don't have to wear those damn glasses and b) I won't have to pay extra to see a movie like Toy Story 3 IN 3-D.  Now I may sound old with these comments but this is one form of "advancing" technology I just think is stupid, and people will soon realize is a waste of their money.
Now technology has also done a great job by advancing animation, this is one place where PIXAR has helped to further one form of film making.  There are recent modern day marvels that just could not have been as visually beautiful as they were today, or made.  The landscape of science fiction and fantasy films has become almost entity.  Just think about the wondrous work of James Cameron's two iconic blockbuster films.  Now I have to say Cameron is an AWFUL screenwriter, but as a director he is a true visionary.  His two films Titanic and Avatar both are visually beautiful and create world's and experiences that are aided by CGI.  Avatar visual effects are just fantastic and they highlight some of the best work done in recent years.
The key to good CGI is making the viewer feel as though the world exists and that the Hollywood trickery does not make someone in the audience laugh at the fake human beings that are used or have the fakes images take away from the actual story.  Obviously budget plays a huge role in creating believable special effects, but in a day when blockbusters are given huge budgets it should not be hard to make something look believable.  However there have been several cases where films just did not understand technology and looked sloppy and fake.  If you watch the first Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone during the quidditch game it is clear that some of the people on brooms look fake or computerized.  This is one of the most noticeable gaffs I have seen in recent years (I blame Chris Columbus as I hate his direction).  I tried to find a clip on YouTube but alas damn copyright.  If you are a fan watch the movie and you will see.

Please directors just don't forget that depth is important and a good screenplay matters, so try not to make your films just look good, give them some substance.  This video listed below higlights the last hundred years in visual effects over the last 100 years enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Tribute to: The Sound of Music and My Childhood

Every year around Easter I remember sitting down in my living room watching the film The Sound of Music with them.  I remember my dad doing the funny voices while he sang, or pretending that he didn't want to watch the movie, but he actually did.  This movie has brought a lot of great memories.  Everyone has movies that bring about wonderful childhood memories and this is the film that does that for me.  With Maria twirling around the hill or singing about her favorite things, I must salute The Sound of Music on this holiday season.

This movie is magical.  I plan to watch Julie Andrews use her golden voice and "climb every mountain."  Christopher Plummer's Captain Von Trap is fun to watch as you see his tough exterior melted by Maria's heart of gold.  I hope to one day go to a Sound of Music sing along.   This movie has also spurred one of my favorite episodes of Will & Grace entitled Von TrappedIf you are a fan of this film watch that episode of Will & Grace.  There is something about Julie Andrews singing with young children that just makes you smile.  Do yourself a favor and find that movie that brought you joy in childhood, and watch as soon as possible!

When and if you read this post your favorite childhood movies-let's keep this trip down memory lane going.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Win Win is a real Winner

Win Win (4 out of 5 stars)
Directed and Written by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor)
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, and Alex Shaffer

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is not the most successful lawyer; he has only a few clients and is financial trouble.  On the side Flaherty works with Stephen Vigman (Tambor) as a high school wrestling coach.  As Mike starts to ponder his financial woes a rich client drops in his lap and his situation starts to look differently.  When Mike takes over the clients care and puts him in a home.  Mike and his wife Jackie (Ryan) go to old man's house only to find his estranged grandson Kyle on the doorstep.  Mike and Jackie take the boy in because his mother is in rehab, and they begin to form a bond with young child. 

Mike starts to build a bond with Kyle over his great wrestling abilities.  Giamatti is a terrific actor, and I think would enjoy watching him read the phone book (probably not), but he is a so effortless.  The connection between Giamatti's money woes and his desire to be a good father is strong and Giamatti nails every scene.

My friend Keith stated "I could watch Amy Ryan and Alex Shaffer just walk in a grocery store for the whole movie."  Ryan is great, and her connection with Shaffer though not as strong as Giamatti's is well played in their trip to the grocery store where she finally feels as though he is her son.

This film is poignant and makes you think about family, but there are also a lot of laughs.  Bobby Cannavale plays Terry Delfino, Mike's best friend and his comic timing adds the much needed jolt that livens this film up and keeps the audience hooked.  The main strength is vision of the writer/director Thomas McCarthy.  McCarthy's is a great visionary of human character, this film is another great study in people and their connections with one another.

My Recommendation: Worth the 10 dollars!

Some Religious Movies Not to "Passover" this Holiday Season

Well tis the season, probably one of the most religious times of the year.  With both Passover and Easter happening at the same time this year, and Lady Gaga's Judas song I figured it was time to talk about some movies that are worth your time, and center around religion.  Picking my favorite religious movie is difficult, but there are three that come to my mind automatically: Dogma, Saved, and and Religulous.  These three films all challenge the main beliefs within organized churches and make people think about things on a much more deeper spiritual plane.

Dogma (1999) is written and directed by Kevin Smith (this is before all his movies started to suck)and stars Linda Fiorintino as Bethany the supposed descendant of Jesus, Chris Rock as a black apostle, George Carlin as Cardinal Glick a man who represents everything wrong with organized religion, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as fallen angels trying to get back into Heaven, Alan Rickman as angel, Selma Hayek as a muse, Jay and Silent Bob as prophets, and above all Alanis Morisette as God.  The philosophy behind this film is genius, and it is cleverly written.  This is the definition of satire to me, and you should all add it to your holiday viewing this weekend to to make you think deeper about your own spirituality.

Saved (2004) is directed by Brian Danelly and also written by Danelly and Michael Urban.  Saved is about a young girl named Mary who is a part of the Christian Jewels at her high school, her boyfriend tells her he is is gay in an underwater game; she then hits her head after she slips on the side of the pool and thinks she sees Jesus come save her and tell her to (gasp) sleep with Dean to change him. When that backfires Mary becomes pregnant and her journey to finding her own path begins.  At times the messages in this film are heavy handed but this movie is hilarious.  Mandy Moore plays one of her best roles ever Hilary Faye a devoutly religious girl who is filled with Christs love (queue throwing a Bible at Mary).  The real star of this film is Eva Amuri (daughter of Susan Sarandon) who plays a Jewish girl at a Christian school-I can't do her humor justice.  This film has a good message about acceptance and not trying to change people just because you don't think they fit God's plan.

Religulous (2008) is a documentary from the point of view of late night talk show host and comedian Bill Maher that talks about atheism.  This is a religious point of view that is rarely talked about and I thought it was great to see Maher have the balls to go and meet with religious leaders and ask them the tough questions.  My personal favorite was his interview with the "former" gay man who had changed and is now "straight."  There are few people who challenge the system and I applaud Maher for his daring look at religion; he knows how to push the boundaries.  Sure sometimes he is insulting, but he also dares to do what many will not.

At the end of the day I hold no ill will to anyone who is religious in fact I think it is honorable, but with religion comes spirituality and asking the hard questions.  Watch these movies and think deeply about your own spirituality this weekend.  Below is one of my favorite scenes from Dogma, enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rabbit Hole takes the Viewer on an Intense and sometimes funny journey

Rabbit Hole (4 out of 5 stars)
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire Adapted from the play Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckheart, Diane Wiest, Sandra Oh, and Tammy Blanchard

This film is adapted from the play Rabbit Hole and is about a married couple Becca Corbett (Kidman) and Howie Corbett who lose a child in an accident.  The film starts chronicles the different approaches that both Becca and Howie use to cope with the death of their son.  Becca tends to try and control the landscape of their lives as the now stay at home mom, while Howie tends to want hold onto everything that their son ever touched or played with.

Kidman is brilliant as Becca and is raw and brutal in her portrayal of a mother whose love knows no boundaries.  Becca says what is on her mind, and Kidman's acting gives truth and honesty to the performance.  When Becca and Howie go to their grief counseling a time where couples talk about the children they lost one couple says that "God took their daughter to make another angel" and Kidman states back to them why didn't God just make another angel.  The power behind her realistic performance breathes life into this film.

Becca's mother Nat (Wiest) also has lost a son and she constantly compares her loss to Becca's.  The dynamic between Kidman and Wiest is tense, they have both lost their children, and have to come to terms with the difficulty of the pain they deal with everyday.  Becca's sister Izzy (Blanchard) tells Becca that she is pregnant at the beginning of the film, and as Becca copes with this you can see her unravel as she feels her child should be alive while her sister is not responsible enough to have a kid.

Eckhart is the strongest I have ever seen him; he deals with his pain tangible real ways through trying to reach out to others like Gaby (Oh) who also lost a child. When Izzy says that her child died 8 years prior to that group session you see Eckhart's face hope drain from his face as he realizes that the grief process will take years, and he may never recover from losing his son.

This films is honest raw and passionate, and director John Cameron Mitchel lends a great eye to creating a tale that weaves grief and humor well.  Mitchell crafts the most painful scenes between Becca and the boy who was driving the car that hit her son, Jason with magnetism.  Becca and Jason have this connection and help each other through their process, and the screenplay helps paint the complex issue between the victim of the family and Jason.  His comic book is the inspiration for the title of film; he talks about alternate universes where people carry on different activities.  Within this universe there is great tragedy, but within his comic the hope is there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Mitchell has created a powerful work of art that makes you look deeply into the complexity of loss, and how there are different stages, and different method that help people cope with a process that you can't understand until you deal with it first-hand. 

There Needs to be More Than Just Tyler Perry

One of the major critiques of this year's Academy Award nominations has been the lack of recognition for African American actors and actresses . There was an article by the New York Times that this was a trend.  That article made me think about what this means black actors and actresses in general. 

Tyler Perry hot sexy picsAre there good roles out there?  The answer appears to be that there are, numerous black actors and actresses have been nominated and won Academy Awards.  Last year the film Precious based on the novel Push by Saphire was a great film with an black cast Academy Award winner Mo'Nique and Academy Award nominee Gaborey Sidibe, a black director Lee Daniels  and a black screenwriter (insert name).  The other answer is is that enough?  To list the names of successful working black actors working today is a relatively small list: Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry,  and Morgan Freeman. These are probably the biggest working actors in Hollywood.  There are of course other famous black actors and actresses like Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard, Kerry Washington, and many many more.  Maybe the problem isn't a lack of good roles, but the quantity of roles available.

In the last few years even Denzel has not been landing the quality roles that he used to land.  No that could be partly because of his getting older, but I have not see him in a good film since American Gangster and before that Training Day.

Hall Berry has had flop after flop since her Academy Award win; she has not landed a decent role nor has she starred in much.  Her Academy Award win was historic and she was great in the film, but like with Hattie McDaniel her win has not helped her get better roles.

Will Smith is the biggest box office draw for black actors and actresses, but he has not not had a film released in over the last 3 years, and his Men in Black III project has been postponed because of cast changes.

Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury in all of the Marvel films.  In the Marvel Universe Nick Fury has been both white and black, I give the studio credit for casting Jackson in this role.  Jackson works consistently.

Morgan Freeman also has a lot of projects and does a lot of different films; he recently starred in Red, and was Nelson Mandela in Invictus.  Freeman has the right balance between quality roles and the number of roles he takes on.  Yet at this moment he is one of the only black actors who has this balance.

There are actors and actresses who have growing popularity but Hollywood is not creating box office stars like they used to, and without this bank ability people like Kerry Washington and Don Cheedle are not being used as much as they should be.  Hollywood needs to take notice of the different talent that exists and use them to create projects that will benefit them.

Quantity vs. Quality-What matters more?  In my mind both of these matter, but depending on the audience there are different perceptions of what matters more.  I would like to highlight a section of the New York Times article entitle Hollywood's Whiteout the author Darghis and Scott (2011) stated:

"This retreat from race by the big studios partly explains the emergence of a newly separate black cinema with its own stars (Morris Chestnut, Vivica A. Fox), auteur's (Ice Cube, Tyler Perry) and genres (including tales of buppie courtship like "Two can Play that Game" and of neighborhood striving like the “Barbershop” franchise). Emerging from outside the mainstream and indie world, the prolific Mr. Perry has become one of the most successful directors and producers of any color. Last year he directed a much-maligned adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” Some complained that Mr. Perry had bowdlerized that’s famous feminist work, but he had made it his own, complete with melodramatic flourishes and divas like Janet Jackson."

With this piece of the article the main point is that quantity is not enough and that there needs to be more.  Great works like the poem "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When is the Rainbow Enuf" have been made into melodramatic works that do not capture the greatness of the original work.  I personally thought the performances were great, and that some of them could have been candidates for Academy Award nominations, but I do agree Perry emphasized the melodramatic aspects rather than using the beauty of the original work. 

Tyler Perry has been highlighted as one of the hardest working black men in Hollywood; he has starred in, directed, and produced numerous films.  Tyler Perry appears to control the Universe, (sarcasm noted) but he seems to be the hardest working black man in Hollywood.  Perry has his champions and his critics.  Some people praise him for bringing more stories about black people to the big screen (and television now) while others say he presents maligned stereotypical representations.  Spike Lee another famous black director, actor, and producer has been one of his greatest critics and has cited his viewpoint as setting the black community back.  Darghis and Scott (2011) stated:

"Mr. Lee has been among Mr. Perry’s critics. “We’ve got a black president, and we’re going back,” Mr. Lee said in 2009. “The image is troubling, and it hearkens back to Amos ’n’ Andy.” The philosopher Cornel West has been more charitable (“Brother Tyler can mature”) and last year he put a larger frame around the issue of race and the movies in America, noting that with “all the richness in black life right now,” that “the only thing Hollywood gives us is black pathology. Look at the Oscars. Even ‘Precious,’ with my dear sister Mo’Nique, what is it? Rape, violation, the marginalized. Or else you get white missionary attitudes toward black folk. ‘The Blind Side?’ Oh my God! In 2010? I respect Sandra Bullock’s work, but that is not art.”

So what matters most? The answer is quality and quantity both matter! (I am cheating with my answer of course).  How do you find the balance, is Hollywood afraid to tell stories that are different in a bad economy?  Hollywood is clinging to the predictable action genre to rake in all the money.  Taking risks is not on their agenda and Perry makes Hollywood money, so he is their go to guy.  Perry has done some great things with his films, but he does need to widen his lens in order to capture a deeper perspective.  I think Spike Lee and Tyler Perry both have valuable points of view, but they also need to work towards improving their craft and work towards making stronger films.

What's on the Horizon?  Does 2011 look Better?

This summer the film based on the best selling the novel The Help is being released (movie has the same title as the book).  I am in the middle of the book right now, and the writing is decent and plot is alright, but I am not sold on this film.  The book is told from three different perspectives, which is possible in a book, but the movie looks like it is being told from the perspective of lead white character played by Emma Stone (who is a talented actress).  Creating a film from three different perspectives is difficult but it has been done. 

 I have big issues with the film The Last King of Scotland.  The film uses James McAvoy's character as a plot device (his character is made up) to help tell the story of Idi Amin.  Now, yes this film is based off a book, but I think this is problematic because relying on a work of fiction to write about a real person. 

The Help does bring to light the perspective of black women who worked in the houses of white women and their lack of voice.  This film will highlight some past issues, but I do not know if the material is strong enough to send that message to everyone.

This weekend Tyler Perry has another film that is being released entitled Madea's Big Happy Family.  As I watched the trailer today I thought "all of his movies look the same and have the same themes."  I want to see Tyler Perry look further and do more; he does have interesting point of view, and I think he has stories to tell, but I hope he can push further than the same standard plot and tell new stories and use the clout he has garnered to to take African Americans further in cinema, and do more to develop his own potential.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top Ten On-Screen Couples of All Time

Great on-screen chemistry is an important aspect to movies, so movies have become so memorable and successful, because the actors have had such great chemistry.  This list focuses on on-screen romances.

10-Wall-E and Eve in Wall-E (2008) Of all the on screen animated couples in history I have been moved most by these two robots falling in love.  This love is not about chemistry (because the characters are animated), but mostly about finding that one person who completes you.  Wall-E is a lovelorn robot who idealizes finding the perfect person from seeing the film Hello Dolly!  Wall-E helps her save the world and you can't help but feel the connection.

9-Billy Crystal (Harry Burns) and Meg Ryan (Sally Albright) in When Harry met Sally (1989) The age old question "can women and men be friends?" Crystal and Ryan have great chemistry, even when they can't stand each other at the beginning of the movie, their on screen banter is great.  As the movie progresses and they become friends you can't but see that there is more to this relationship.  Watching how important they are to each other is beautiful, and seeing that a good relationship blossoms from friendship.

8-Warren Beatty (Clyde Barrow) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie Parker) in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) The are in love, and they rob banks.  This romanticized tale of the famous bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde had two of sexiest movie stars of the time with passionate on screen chemistry.  Their love story and the things they do bind them an interesting way. 

7-Heath Ledger (Ennis del Mar) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist) in Brokeback Mountain (2004)  A forbidden love as these two work together in the mountains they discover something more about themselves, and their relationship.  One cold night their share a tent and their lives are changed forever.  When they see each other for the first time to go "fishing"  their embrace and passionate kiss exude passion.  When Ennis goes to see Jack's parents and finds his shirt in the closet he realizes they had as the song from the movie sad "A love that will never grow old."

6-Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) and Richard Burton (Mark Anthony) in Cleopatra (1963) Their real life romance was apparent on the screen.  This film is not the best but the connection that Taylor and Burton had on screen was unmistakable.

5-Julia Roberts (Vivien Ward) and Richard Gere (Edward Lewis) in Pretty Woman (1990) The hooker and the millionaire fall in love?  This fairytale story details Roberts going from whore to a girl worth fighting for; she never kisses, but once she starts she can't stop.  As Gere climbs up her fire escape a modern fairytale is born and anything can happen in Hollywood. 

4-Vivien Leigh (Scarlet O'Hara) and Clark Gable (Rhett Butler) in Gone with the Wind (1939)-The passion and the tension between these two is so magnetic.  Rhett was not her first choice, but often in life, love and chemistry are not easy.  Leigh and Gable's  fighting adds to heat that they have and frankly I don't give a damn if you disagree with me.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio Pictures & Photos3-Leonardo DiCaprio (Jack Dawson) and Kate Winslet (Rose DeWitt) in Titanic (1997)-My favorite modern day on screen couple.  DiCaprio and Winslet made it believable that they fell in love during their short time on this boat, and that they were meant to be together.  The last scene when they kiss in the staircase and everyone claps gives me butterflies in my stomach.

2-Katherine Hepburn (Amanda Bonner) and Spencer Tracey (Adam Bonner ) in Adam's Rib (1949)  This is another real life love affair that emulated great on screen chemistry.  In this film the pair are a married couple who are both lawyers and on opposing sides in a court case.  This film is funny, touching, and highlights some of the greatest on screen ever!

1-Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund)  in Casablanca (1942)-As time goes by I can't ever forget this memorable on screen couple.  Thir brief love affair is something unforgettable, and it bodes the question do you give eternal love for safety?  Boggie and Bergman are magical together, they play off each other so well.  This iconic film is about their relationship and this pair sold it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Made in Dagenham Boasts Equality for Entertainment and Safety

Made in Dagenham (3 out of 5 stars)

Directed by: Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls)
Written by: Billy Ivory
Starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, and Rosamund Pike

This story chronicles the the journey of the women who work in Ford's Motor plant in Dagenham, England.  The woman are working for less pay then the men, and they decide to stand up for their rights and walk out of the plant.  The women find a mouthpiece in Rita O'Grady (Hawkins) who is encouraged by her union representative Albert (Hoskins) to keep going further and push for equality for all the women who work in upholster part of the plant.  Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) is a brilliant actress and just shine in the role of Rita; she is a force to be reckoned with as her character and pushes the limit with her humor, wit, and sincerity in her acting style.

Rita builds a connection with Lisa the wife of the man who is charge of the plant (she doesn't know who Lisa is at the time) and they form a connection because Lisa was educated at Cambridge but has been content with playing the role of the house wife.  Rosamund Pike is turning out to be a wonderful actress; she longs to be more than just a house wife, and Pike conveys such depth in a small role.  Hoskins is always great, and Richardson exudes confidence as government minister Barbara Castle who helps the women in their fight for equality.

This film is the British Norma Rae.  Both films were entertaining, and made you stand up and cheer for women who push the boundaries to get their voice heard.  The difference is that when I watched this film it felt as though the director played it safe, and never let the material of the film go deeper.  Nigel Cole's direction is often simple, and simple can be a good thing, but this film could have been so much more.  I stood up to cheer for the acting, but that's about all.

My Recommendation: It's entertaining and has good acting.  Watch the preview below, if you are moved rent it, if not keep searching Netflix.

Fair Game is Close to the Top of its Game

Fair Game (3 out of 5 stars)

Directed by: Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers)
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John Butterworth
Starring: Naomi Watts and Sean Penn

No, this is not the crappy 1995 film with Cindy Crawford and Billy Baldwin, where we get to see a two obligatory breast shots.This film chronicles the story of husband and wife Valerie Plame (Watts) and Joe Wilson (Penn) and their battle with both the CIA and the Bush administration.  Plame works for the CIA as a covert operative who identity is revealed because her husband reveals after a trip to Niger that Saddam Hussein does not have weapon's of mass destruction (WMDs).  Within the White House Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff leaked to information that Plame was a cover agent with the CIA, and the both Plame and Wilson became a target for countless attacks.

The film uses the procedural well, but sometimes loses the emotional depth of the story lines that surround the revelation of Plame's status.  In the film Plame was working to bring a family home from Iraq who had aided in one of her investigations, but as she loses ability you soon realize the family has lost hope in being saved.  Watts appears stiff and wooden sometimes as opposed to being a tough as nails CIA agent.; she is best when she lets her acting become natural.  Watts scenes are best when she deals with her family and the implications of her exposure.  Penn playing a liberal mouthpiece also did not come across so much as acting, but Sean Penn being Sean Penn.  Although Penn brings to life the real Joe Wilson well.

Liman does however do a good job of weaving a tale, that inter splices news reels and and this couple's story.  The emotional depth comes with the rage at the Bush administration for allowing someone in your administration to force a family to deal with mass scrutiny.  Liman makes this more than a procedural and when you watch Watts and Penn deal with the emotional heft on a family level that's when this political becomes so much more.

My Recommendation: Good solid filmmaking, go out and rent it

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Andrew Garfield: From Facebook to Webslinger

Andrew Garfield like most actors started out in television; he then landed a role in a British film Boy A (2007) in which he played the grown up version of young boy who was sent to jail for committing a crime.  Years later he (in the form of Garfield) was released and he tries to to start his life over again, but with one act of heroism it all starts to fall a part.  What a great description from having only seen the preview.  As a big fan of this upcoming actor I will be adding this to my Netflix queue.  To some I think Garfield appears whiny, but I think his acting works splendidly.

In the same year Robert Redford directed and starred in the film Lions for Lambs. Redford gave Garfield a an important role acting opposite him as youth who gave Redford hope.  The film is not one of Redford's crowning achievements, but Garfield's future acting chops were there within this moment I remembered thinking "He is going to be big."

Two years later he was in the film the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Heath Ledger's last film) which I have not brought myself to watch, partly because this movie looked just awful, and I wanted to remember Heath Ledger in his quality work, but I digress.  Garfield had started working with some of the most famous directors.

In 2010 his career took off even further with two great roles, one as Tommy in Never Let Me Go and Eduardo Saverin one of the inventors of facebook in The Social Network; he is great in both of these films.

Never Let Me Go is the story of three young children Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley) who attend Halisham boarding school.  While attending this school the children are raised kept away from the outside world in order to carry out a mission without their knowledge of the purpose of the mission.   Garfield's performance as Tommy is heartbreaking as he realizes his love for Katie can never happen you see the hope drain from his face.

The Social Network is the movie about the founding of facebook, and Garfield plays the former best friend of billionaire genius Mark Zukerberg.  Garfield's innocence and vulnerability are the strengths in his acting; he never sells the character short.  This should have been his first of many Academy Award nominations, but like most young male actors he lost out.

Garfield has proven his acting talent, but in 2012 is where he will gain his star power taking over the role of Peter Parker aka Spiderman in The Amazing Spiderman.  This is a reboot of the series and it seems as though it will actually be better than the original (or that is my hope).  As Garfield finishes filming this movie look for him to become a big superstar in years to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When Good Books Become Bad Movies: Part One When You Have Great Material Don't Assume Your Point of View Makes it Better

When I was in 9th grade we read the classic book The Great Gatsby.  After reading that book that put me in the "roaring 20's"  with the days of prosperity and bootlegging.  The Great Gatsby also filled my head my romantic ideals as I envisioned myself starring off longlingly towards that green light, and its representation of true love.  The book is poetic, and sparked my interest in reading even more.  The characters were complex and as a young reader I was able to put my imagination to work.

Cut to a few weeks later when my teacher had us watch the movie in class after we had finished the book.  We watched the older version with Robert Redford in the role of J. Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy.  Redford was a great choice for Gatsby; he is charismatic and charming, but I guess I have never been convinced of his acting ability.  Farrow's Daisy was not what I pictured at all, she pulls off the innocent somehwta well, but she didn't take on the role as i envisioned it.  The film was  written by Franics Ford Coppola, but his talented writing skills could not save this adaptation.  The problem with the translation from book to film is that sometimes the power of the word gets lost on the screen and it loses the emotional context of the original film.  Thus began my long  treck to dissapointment.  I would read books, get excited about them in movie form, and then sit in the theatre sad that the film just did not capture the essence of the book.

Years later in college I read Augusten Burroughs book Running with Scissors in about 3 days.  The book was unique and autobiographical tale about son who was essentially abandoned by his alcoholic father crazy mother who has her son live with her shrink.  Augusten's mother sends him to live with her therapist and his crazy family for his adolescence and well let's just say there are some vivid descrpitions that would give someone a altered perception of life-read it!  The Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck) became the director of the film adaptation, and I was ecstatic a gay male director taking on the story of another gay male author.  The cast had Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes, Biran Cox, Gwyenth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Gabrielle Union, Kristin Chenowith, and newcomer Joseph Cross. What could go wrong?  Well the film was terrible and the subject matter was watered down.  There is some vivid shocking imagry in the book, and all of it was left out the film.  The book has such a queer identity, but my guess is producers were scared it would prevent mainstream America from showing up so they altered things.  This ultimately ruined this movie for the fans of the book and the public.

I came to The Lovely Bones late. I read the book the summer before the films release.  The premise was intriguing and at that point I knew Peter Jackson was going to direct the movie version and I enjoyed what he did with the movie Heavenly Creatures, so I began my jounrey with this book.  The book was tough the read for me, after every chapter I would put the book down because I was so emotionally spent.  I felt the pain and hardship as Susie who was brutally raped and murdered watch her family suffer as they tried to put their life together.  As the reader you become Susie and you take on her emotions you feel her loss, her families anguish, anger that she missed out so much that you have been able to enjoy in life.  When I finished the book I felt like an intruder into intimate family moments that I should have never seen.  Opening night of the movie (in northwest Ohio) I sat in my seat prepared for this intense journey as was sadly dissapointed.  This was another situation where the subject matter was watered down and the audience was given Law and Order: Lovely Bones Unit.  This film was procedural and did not tackle the deep emotional material well at all.  They missed the ball on the family struggle.  Mark Wahlberg was miscast as Susie's father and Rachel Weisz phoned it in as Susie's mother.  Stanley Tucci captured Susie's killer perfect down to every creepy twitch, but not enough to save this wonderful book from becoming a bad film.

How do bad book to film translations happen?  The studios get their hands on a script, and re-work good things.  Maybe the the director's vision is off (Watchmen-that will be talked about next time).  The author may not understand the complexity of the source material.  Reading a book is interpretive, and the way I vision one story is different from the way others may envision a story, so creating the perfect adaptation is impossible, but they do happen.  My advice is honor the material and find where the passion and heart is within the story, or some books like Catcher in the Rye are just not meant to be movies.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scream 4 Rocked it Out!

So after another midnight showing, which can be hit and miss because of the anticipation. I was happy with the way Scream 4 turned out.  As Sidney Prescott returns home to Woodsborro people start dying all over again.  With a truly modern opening Scream 4 took the franchise a whole different level, and played with the modern horror cliches.

My advice is go see this movie because its fun and its scary, there is nothing better than a movie that can bring out every emotion.  Fans of the franchise will love it, and if you haven't seen the movie and love film then jump on board.  The Scream franchise likes to pay homage to the horror genre and film.  The movie never takes itself too seriously and has created great legacy characters like Gale, Dewey, and Sidney.

With a movie like this playing critic is tough, because as a fan you often have a hard time being mean to something you love-so I won't.  I also will not be giving out any plot details because the fun in this movie is the surprise.  I just hope the I-Phone never gets an app that has that voice on it!

Never Let Me Go Makes it Hard to Let Go of the Emotional Struggle

Never Let Me Go (3 1/2 stars out of 5)

Directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) and Written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later)
Starring: Carrie Mulligan, Andrew Garfield,  and Keira Knightley

Never Let Me Go is the story of three young children Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley) who attend Halisham boarding school.  While attending this school the children are raised kept away from the outside world in order to carry out a mission without their knowledge of the purpose of the mission.  Kathy narrates the story from her perspective in the present day and shows the viewer their world while they attend Hailsham then leave that when they get older and are sent to another place called The Cottages to further prepare them for their life's mission.

Mulligan's performance is so quiet and telling as she narrates her need to follow the rules set out by their headmistress (Charlotte Rampling).  Kathy believes in their mission and trust the process, but as she falls for Tommy at young age; she rarely questions the thought that there may be more to her life than Hailsham is allowing.  As Tommy realizes the truth behind  his love for Kathy you feel the his pain and Garfield is brilliant.  Yet Knightley's Ruth was the one who stole the film for me; she is hauting in her portrayal of Ruth someone who is so afraid of being alone that she isolates and creates a divide amongst her friends.

Mark Romanek's direction creates this beautiful portrait of their world, where we are able to feel every emotion, and understand that this mission has such a dark and twisted fate for our three main characters.  The cinematography conveys the elements of this dark and depressing tone.The flaws are the pacing there were moments where Romanek needed more life, to keep me hooked.   The characters are often cold and dispondant.  Dispondency may make for a lack of connection and the viewer could lose their connection to the characters and the film.  However the characters' worlds are filled with uncertainty  and the film never let's you that go.

My Reccomendation: Rent if you like British Period Pieces-If you don't, this may no be for you-this is currently out to rent and is no longer in the theatres.

Country Strong is only Heavy in the Melodrama

So most of my blogs so far have been about aspects of film but here come the reviews and my first one is a doozy.

Country Strong (1 1/2 stars out of 5)

Written and Directed by Shana Feste
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, and Leighton Meister


This film chronicles the journey of Kelly Canter (Paltrow) as she battles getting out of rehab, and tries to make a comeback from doing some pretty crazy things with alcohol on stage at a Dallas concert.  Kelly's husband James Canter (McGraw) comes to take out Kelly when she has one month left in rehab.  While in rehab Kelly meets Beau (Hedlund) whom she forms a realtionship with and she implores her husband to bring him on tour with them.  James Canter has different ideas and wants to bring Chiles Stanton (Meister) instead a Taylor Swift wannabe who unlike Kelly is more pop country.  James sees Beau save Chiles as freezes on stage and they end up doing a duet; he decides to bring both Beau and Chiles on the road with Kelly and the melodrama begins.

The worst part about this film is the writing and the directing.  The plot and direction of the film were so contrived and cliche that I felt as if I were involved in one big big long country song that would not end.  Now I like some country music, but not all of it is this whiny and melodramatic.  As the story unfolds without giving more of the plot away, you can see every story angle coming from a mile away, except maybe the ending (although the ending is the most overblown aspect of the story).  The last part of the film is just one big concert where you get to watch Gwyneth strut her stuff and she is talented and the music is decent, but with the most recent trend good music can't save bad writing.Country Strong only left me feeling heavy from melodrama, and lacked solid emotional stability.

To my surprise to most talented actor in the cast is Tim McGraw; he really sold the story the best and hit every emotion.  McGraw has grown as an actor.  Paltrow pulled off the performances and the drugged up crazy country singer well enough, but not enough to carry the film.  While Hedlund and Meister are attractive and potentially good singers their acting is the weakest of the foursome, especially Meister.  Meister's country accent just didn't cut it.

Overall this movie was lacking spirit and spark for me to make any connection with the story and the characters.  There were brief glimpses of hope like when Gwyneth Paltrow meets a young boy from the Make a Wish Foundation, but you would have to be made of stone not to feel emotions here.  The music is solid country music, and that helps, but again not enough.  Like with Burlesque a film needs more than just its music behind it.

My recommendation: Avoid it

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Memoriam: Sidney Lumet

I know this comes a couple days late, but I feel bad not paying tribute to the great film director Sidney Lumet.  Lumet got most of his early work behind the camera in television, but he of course remembered more for the stellar films he directed on the big screen.

Lumet's first huge film was one of the best courtroom dramas of all time 12 Angry Men (1957).  This film launched his film career and set him on a great trajectory.  Lumet had a very strong film career with other movies like Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network (my personal favorite), The Wiz, The Verdict, Running on Empty and his last film (written by his daughters) Before the Devil Knows Your Dead.

Sidney Lumet was nominated for the Best Director Academy Award four times for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon (1976), Network (1977), and The Verdict (1983); he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium in 1982 for Prince of the City.  His only Academy Award win came in 2005 when he was honored with the Honorary Award.

In his forty years in the film industry Mr. Lumet's crown jewel and most highly regarded film was network.  The film's famous quote that man recite is "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."  That line was uttered by actor Peter Finch who won a posthumous Oscar for this film.  The film also won Faye Dunaway her only Academy Award in the Best Actress category.  Network also won Beatrice Straight the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, and Paddy Chayefsky the award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.  Network had 6 other Academy Award nominations and lost Best Picture to Rocky (terrible win).  The film chronicles network television exploiting the rants of an old TV news journalist (Finch) for ratings.  The film tackles the modern era of TV news and the importance of ratings over quality.  This film was ahead of its time and its director Sidney Lumet was brilliant in the director's chair.

As we reflect on his passing here is a video of him speaking about films, what a sad time to lose such a brilliant director.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gay Men in Film: From Victim to Sidekick, Isn't there More to Being Gay?

After watching the film I Love You Phillip Morris this past week, which stars Jim Carrey as Steven Russell who starts off the film in a hospital bed as if he is dying; he talks about his story and how he was very religious and married but was hiding his sexual orientation.  Carrey states that it costs a lot of money to be gay so he becomes a con man and swindles people out of money in order to keep up with the gay lifestyle.  Eventually while in prison for pulling off one of his latest cons Steven (Carrey) meet Phillip Morris (Ewen McGregor) and they fall in love.  The portrayal of Steven Russell is a somewhat typical representation of gay men in that he represents the materialistic gay man who wants everything. Phillip Morris represents the victimized gay male.  The love between Phillip and Steven is real, but their relationship rarely seems about them, and is more about Steven's misunderstanding his own life.  After watching this I saw a direct correlation with the film Catch me if you can, the whole con man story, but DiCaprio's Frank Abignale is far more redeemable and even celebrated in the end, while Steven is never seen as sympatheic.  Maybe the connection is limited, but I felt comparing a hetersexual and homosexual con man story and showing their differences helps show the disparity in the way that different groups are portrayed in film. 

Carrey's character does represent a different type of role for gay man and it was fun to watch, but there are such a small number of films made where gay men are represented in leading roles where they aren't the victim of violence or die of a disease (most likely HIV or AIDS).  The other complicated part is that this movie was ready to be released last year but because of the content and the original NC-17 rating it did not get released until over a year after its initial release date.  Even in the original poster there is only a picture of Jim Carrey's character (the lead in the film), but there is no picture of his male love interest Phillip Morris.  The above seen movie poster is a later version.  When people create movies like this that dare to be different and push boundaries there is often push back and real stories do not get told.

One of my friends asked me once, "Why do you get excited when you see a gay character in a movie?"  My answer was simple, because it is someone whose story I can relate to.  This happens more in television.  When i was coming up with the list of some of my favorite mainstream movies (and I emphasize mainstream) here is what I cam up with: The Birdcage, Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Milk, Rent  and A Single Man.  Four out those six films portray men who are either killed in a violent act (Brokeback Mountain, Milk) or dying of AIDS (Rent, Philadelphia).  The Birdcage is hilarious but gives the impression that gay men are obsessed with being woman (although the other undertone is that Robin Williams and Nathan have a stronger relationship than most heterosexual couples).  The constant portrayal of gay men as victims presents gay males with that as a constant and singular identity.  The media can be the primary source where people learn about gay males and thus seeing many gay men dying on screen with AIDS paints the picture that it is only gay men who have the disease.  

In comedies gay men have become overrepresented as the gay best friend to a girl.  This plays out in My Best Friend's Wedding, The Object of My Affection, Mean Girls, Monster-In-Law, She's the Man, and many more.  Within the context of the film movies rarely show gay males as the lead in a romantic comedy without leaving room for certain stereotypes (The Birdcage-La Cage Aux Folles does it a little better).  There are niche companies that have created their own gay films that are romantic comedies, but they are rarely seen by a non gay audience.  Movies like The Broken Hearts Club, All Over the Guy, Adam and Steve, and Trick.  These non mainstream companies make these movies on small budgets and rarely attract big talent, so the quality tends to suffer.  How can you not laugh at Nathan Lane and his attempt to play it straight in The Birdcage, or at Rupert Everett as he pretends to Julia Robert's fiance in My Best Friend's Wedding.  The problem is gay men need to have their romantic stories told also so viewers can see that there are more stories in this world.

One other probelm is that within film gay males are portrayed as mainly white.  There is a lack of racial and ethinc diversity when showing gay men.  The one black gay male I can think of is Cuba Gooding Jr. in As good as it gets who is the movie for maybe fifteen minutes.  The only movie I can think with an all black male cast is Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom, which is essentially a TV movie because they made it as a conclusion to the cancelled TV show.  Lee Daniels who directed the Precious is an openly gay male and hopefully this will help bring some racial diversity to gay films.  I could not think of any Asian or Latino gay males represented in film, and no Hank Azaria in The Birdcage only plays Latino.

Hollywood has started to do better, but it just isn't enough.  There are numerous gay film makers out there that are starting to make waves and creat movies that create an opportunity for people to understand what it means to be a gay male.  Ryan Murphy (Glee, Running with Scissors), Gus Van Sant (Milk), Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven).  Murphy has taken on the characters Kurt and Blaine in Glee, but has never had any gay men in his film subject matter.  Van Sant has taken on numerous gay male characters but most of his films are small independent films, and Todd Haynes had Dennis Quaid in Far from Heaven, but most of his material has focused on women.  As television continues to break more ground, the film industry needs to step up their game and market to different audiences, now is the time to take risks and reach a new niche market.