Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tree of Life Branches Out with New Styles of Filmmaking

The Tree of Life (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Directed and Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, and introducing Hunter McCracken

The Tree of Life takes the simple premise of its film and makes so much more.  The story follows Jack O'Brien an his relationship with his family in the 1950s in Texas.  We see this story through Jack's eyes as a young child (Hunter McCracken) and as adult (Sean Penn).  As a young child Jack's we the disillusionment Jack faces while he grows up and deals with his demanding father Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt).  There are two different messages Jack receives throughout his young life; he is told by his father that he must not be naive, fight, and not let anyone walk all over him.  On the other hand his mother preaches love and represents innocence.

Malick's journey with this film is a true work of art, and does not use his screenplay as the sole way to tell his story like most films.  Malick uses imagery, and the impressionistic viewpoint of Jack to tell his story.  Using biblical references and imagery Malick creates a work of authorship that takes the the viewer on a journey where light and sound matter more than speech.  While watching this film I was not prepared for the journey I was undertaking.  There is so much to this film that when it is viewed the viewer must be in a state of calm with nothing but the visuals on their mind.  

The main star of this film is not Brad Pitt (although this is one of his best performances I have seen him give), not is it the brilliant newcomers Jessica Chastain (Mrs. O'Brien) or Hunter McCracken who exude subtlety in their looks.  The star of this film is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski.  Lubezski conveys so much with his work throughout the film.  Lubezski uses imagery and different lenses to capture the the essence of this film, and it is some of the best cinematography I have ever seen.  Alexandre Desplat does a great job blending different classical works with his score that sets the musical mood for the film.

The flaw in the film is that there are moments where Malick gets self indulgent.  There is a sequence in the film where for about ten to fifteen minutes there is a highlight of the creation of the universe.  Though I see the direction he was going with his piece of art, I think this makes the film seem disjointed.  I also thought that the length of the film was something that prevented me from finding Malick's passion which allowed to become self indulgent in unnecessary aspects of the story.

Jessica Chastain's Career Branches Out

Jessica-ChastainYesterday I went to my favorite movie theatre in Albany the Spectrum.  I love the Spectrum for a two
reasons 1) Spectrum is the only theatre in Albany that will play foreign films and documentaries or small independent films 2) The have best popcorn with REAL butter.  I saw the film The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick (review to come).  One of the stars of the film was someone I had never seen in a film before, and her name is Jessica Chastain.  Not only is Jessica a beautiful woman, but she is also a talented actress on the rise.

With having only seen her in one film it may be hard to judge her potential, but her sheer presence in the film Tree of Life, made me want to see her in more.  The film is not completely about the script so with few words Jessica was able to convey so many different emotions.

This upcoming summer Jessica has a bigger supporting role in the film The Help, which is based off the best-selling book about a woman who tells the story of a girl writing a book from the point of the help in Jackson, Mississippi.  Jessica will Celia Foote a woman trying to break into society, but she is married to the man the antagonist (Hilly) was in love with; she is also trying to get pregnant.  Done well, this could be another great role for her.

Chastain will also be playing Salome in the film Wilde Salome (written and directed by Al Pacino, and adapted from the once banned Oscar Wilde film).  Chastain will also be acting opposite Pacino in this film, and I think that when it comes to the classics, Pacino doe it so well, and will help Chastain gain further critical acclaim.

I think Chastain has potential to blossom into a very promising actress.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Living at Home in Your Late Twenties the Concluding Chapter (I hope): Great Film Endings

My room is packed, and tomorrow I will be moving out of my house and driving with my dad and headed to my new apartment in Boston.  Living at home in your late twenties is interesting.  You learn what you you love and miss about your family, and you also learn how different you become.  My family has not changed, my parents and my sister are all the same (my sister is still young and that may change, more as she gets older).  I think I have changed a lot since I graduated from high school went to college worked full time went back to graduate school, and now will be living on my own in a new city.  I am the eternal adventurer, I think I always wanted to be but this took some risks and time to grow.  Many people asked me what I was going to do on my last day, and well I have been packed for a while, my answer has been "run some errands, relax, and hang out with my family" (that may end when my mom comes home).  With that statement it proves that sometimes we revert back to child like roles, and while on my own I take charge as my own person.  Living at home has been interesting, but like all movies it must come to an end.

Finding a great ending that everyone agrees with is difficult, but there are some films that just defy the odds, end perfectly.  Here are the films I think have perfect endings.  As I left graduate school I talked about sad movie endings this will focus on the overall ending to films.

Casablanca (1942) My go to film for many things perfect.  This movie just does it all right and it doesn't pretend that life ends happily or that they guy will always get the girl.  Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman show us that sometimes in the roller coaster of life time must go by, and we have to let go of the past.

Some Like it Hot (1959)  One of, if not the funniest ending to a movie ever!  Jack Lemmon finally reveals he is a man to his suitor, to which he replies "Well nobody's perfect."  The first time I saw this ending I laughed my ass off.

The Graduate (1967) As Benjamin takes away from her wedding and they run to catch the bus they are so energized and elated, then the look of their faces changes to fear and they are silent as they realize there may be no where for them to go.

Chinatown (1974) - "She's my daughter and my sister!" As Evelyn Mulrey drives down the street and  is killed we find out that greed and corruption still will win out and that our main character Jake has to forget about it because it's Chinatown.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) As Hannibal Lector calls Clarice Starling and states "I am having an old friend for dinner", chills went down my spine and the film ended!

The Usual Suspects (1995) This film is narrated for two hours by Kevin Spacey, and in the end we find out that he is the villain the whole time?! The first time I saw I nearly fell off my chair, great ending!

These are only a few of my favorite endings there are many more, but I think the thing I learned from this ending is that things are more bittersweet.  Endings can be filled with laughs, tears, violence, pain, regret, but you have to remember with every door closed there is an opportunity to do more!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jumping the Shark Part 1: The Phantom Menaces

Two things to start: First, I know my blog has been all about movies for the first three months, but sometimes a blogger  just has to change gears in order to keep me writing, second I am tired of television shows lasting past their prime!!!  I was driving home and I heard an ad that had the them song The Office (USA version), and thought "That is one show I am giving up on!"  There is a term for television shows that have gone on too long, and that term is "Jumping the Shark."  The term comes from an episode of Happy Days (1974-1984) when the Fonzie actually jumped over a shark with his motorcycle.  I think the phrase is overused by people, and they try and pinpoint the time when shows "jump the shark" but there are just several shows on the air that need to call it quits.

The Office (NBC, 2005-2013)  I loved watching Michael make a fool of himself, and Jim and Pam make eyes at each other, date, fall in love, get married and have a baby. Then there was Dwight's beet farm, Angela's disapproval, Phyllis and her big jugs, Stanley ornery nature, Kelly being a ditz, Ryan lazy, and of course Andy just being Andy.  The show has a great ensemble with new characters, and now a new boss on the way, but without Steve Carell as Michael Scott, the heart of this show is gone!  I think once Jim and Pam had the baby this show "jumped the shark." Two characters who we all know and love had their happy ending, that's all we needed.  I did love this past season, and seeing Holly and Michael together again, and Michael's last episode was great.  I think the show should have ended, Mary Tyler Moore style with Sabre closing everyone finding new funny jobs, and walking out hugging each other (with Michael).

Desperate Housewives (ABC, 2004-2012)  I remember Marc Cherry saying "I am going to end this show after year 7" and that did not happen we are entering year 8 of this show.  The novelty of this show show wore off after year one, and season two atrocious.  Season 3 was a little better, but this show never found its grove again.  I understand that having a show that is a success is hard to walk away from but the jump in time is where most would say this show "jumped the shark."  I think this show was a one season wonder.  Like Glee the novelty wore off, and the shows quality faded and dipped quickly.  I stopped watching this show the season before the time change and could not happier to have Sunday nights for better shows.

How I met your Mother
How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-Present)  I am going to paraphrase Jerry Maguire for a second, show me the mother!!! I loved this show in the beginning, it almost realistically describes living in Manhattan (much better than Friends at that) and was just a cute show with a great premise.  Somewhere 6 seasons later we are lost in a tangled mess, and we are no closer to finding the mother of Ted's children.  This show is renewed for two more years, really?! I love Barney and his portrayer Neil Patrick Harris as much as the next as the next person, but even Barney would be telling a fake story to ditch this show.  I don't know if there is a specific moment when this show "jumped the shark" but I am ready to jump ship if they don't do better storytelling.

Grey's Anatomy (ABC-2005-Present)  Cut to Meredith falling in the water drowning, dying, talking to Denny (ugh) and coming back to life, "JUMPING THE SHARK!" I kept watching.  Cut to Izzy having sex in the hospital to a hallucination of Denny because she had a brain tumor "JUMPING THE SHARK!" I kept watching.  I can handle the back and forth romances but this show has been sloppy with that. Lexie to George to Alex to Mark, George with Meredith then Callie then Izzie then on his own.  I gave up this show when they killed off George.  I remember watching the season premiere after that, and stating.  I can't keep going!  The only person I would watch this show for is Sandra Oh, even Chandra Wilson's character lost her spunk.

Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit (NBC, 1999-Present) This show without Stabler and Benson is not SVU!  I think this should have ended a few years ago because the procedural sheen wore off.  Throwing in new characters will not make this show worth watching again.  I think this show jumped the shark when they got rid of Diane Neal. In the beginning this show was about the crime and the character development of the shows actual full time characters.  Today SVU is revolving door for guest stars to score an Emmy nomination.  People like Sharon Stone, Robin Williams, made the show campy rather than something to applaud.  I recently watched the episode with John Stamos and fell as though the show had just lost its emotional heft, and the the guest appearances are a novelty.

'Weeds' Character Spawns New Femme Series for ShowtimeWeeds (Showtime, 2005-2012) The premise is great, a suburban mom turns to dealing drugs when her husband dies and leave her with no money.  The first two years of this show was genius, but the plot got tired as they tried to invent even crazier places for Nancy Botwin.  This past season where she and her family were fugitives was terrible, and the season before that was even worse.  Usually Showtime knows when to shut it down, but this show has been a big success for them.  I believe this is the last season, but Nancy and company jumped the shark somewhere around the time when Nancy burns down her whole housing development at the end of season 3.

Ironically most of these shows got their start in 2005, maybe it was something about the year or maybe the shows networks don't know when to give up!  I hope that these shows end soon or that fans revolt and stop watching.


The Office will close it's doors in May, and How I Met Your Mother will end May 2014 (Desperate Housewives, Weeds have ended).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Witches Start to Fly High, as Fangers Start to Cover their Ass: True Blood Edition

Trueblood3.jpgSo I have been sick in bed this past weekend, and let me tell you, I was BORED OUT OF MY MIND!!!  I watched my friends have fun at NYC or Chicago Pride over face book, and was just laying around watching television.  I was most bored yesterday, but the day Sunday ended with one great thing, the premiere of True Blood.  For those who who have never heard of this show (or have been living under a rock) the shows basic premise follows Sookie Stackhouse and her interactions with mythical creatures like Vampires, shape shifters, and werewolves...Oh my!  The story centers around the town of Bon Temps in Louisiana.

The first two seasons of this show were especially strong, and creatively were their best.  As the second season came to an end, the quality started to dip as the show saw the conclusion to the Marry Ann storyline.  Season three added a whole bunch of new characters to the world of Sookie Stackhouse, some people that she never even really interacted with.  At the center of this show is Sookie's love life, and most of the first three seasons have focused on her relationship with the vampire Bill Compton.  Bill is a "different" vampire from the rest of his counterparts more apt to try and protect Sookie because he loves her.  Many people will compare this to the connection between Bella and Edward in the Twilight series, but this relationship is far more complicated.  There have been other potential suitors, like Eric Northman the owner of the local Vampire Bar, and Alcide the werewolf who come to her rescue.  I think this season we will be seeing Sookie get it on with someone other than Bill!

Two of the other main characters Jason and Sam had their own story lines that often isolated them from the main focus of the entire story (Same specifically-although I liked the exploration of his history.)  Jason is Sookie's brother who dated a girl named Crystal whose family sold V (Vampire Blood, which is illegal) and they also had their own mythical identity.  Sam is the owner of the local bar/restaurant Merlotte's and he met his birth parents and brother Tommy.  Tommy was a stupid character and they should have gotten rid of him this season. There are of course other characters like Sookie's best friend Tara, Jessica the young girl vampire that Bill turned, Arlene the waitress who fears all vampires, Terry Bellflour another chef at Merlottes, Andy Bellflour the cop and eventual sheriff of Bon Temps and so on.  This show is colored by great characters, but it needs to find the balance in order to create that perfect harmony.

The big mystery throughout the show has been, what is Sookie?  She is clearly not human because she can read people's minds and has "sparks" fly out of her hands.  Everyone is obsessed with her, and the reason is because she she is a Faerie.  Faerie blood is most sought after blood by vampires because there is potential for day walking.

true blood season 3Season four picks up with Sookie in the Faerie world, but she find out that it is not as beautiful and wonderful as it appears to be.  I think season four started well, but I am worried that the show is going to spread the stories too thin again.  This season has been dubbed the season of the with, with witches being "big bad."  The witch parts of the first episode were my least favorite part of the story, except for the fact that they included Lafayette (one of the main characters) who cooks at the Merlotte's Restaurant in Bon Temps, and his partner Jesus.  True Blood needs to remember its core characters and stop diverting attention from them.  I think if the season focuses on the main cast more and stops just introducing more and more characters (with no connection to their audience) the show will improve.  With that said I will be tuning in every week because well True Blood has put its fangs in me, and I am a V high for this show.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Living at Home in Your Late Twenties Part Eight: I Want to be a Hoosier!

So while at home in the Dillon house hold we tend to talk about basketball, A LOT!  We used to talk about it more last year and the years before because my sister was a very talented basketball player.  My father
 also referees women's basketball, so we would talk about that as well.  My sister was the athlete of the family, I played lacrosse for a little while, ran cross country, and did track during high school, but was never an athlete.  I never hated talking about basketball, but its funny to see how much it is still talked about even after my sister has finished playing.

There are numerous basketball films out there, but the only one I really enjoy is the film Hoosiers (1986).   Hoosiers  stars Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper.  Norman Dale (Hackman) coaches an  Indiana high school team in the 1950s.  Shooter (Dennis Hopper) plays a recovering alcoholic who attempts to help  Dale coach the boys to victory. The film represents the time of the film, but it also represents the sport of basketball incredibly well.  I have never seen another films about basketball where I have been on the edge of my seat or cheered for this underdog team.  Within sports films, rooting for the underdog is common theme.   The director David Anspaugh and the writer Angelo Pizzo have created an iconic film that is the best basketball movie ever made. 

I have to admit I have not watched this film recently,  my copy of this film is in storage.  I own very few sports films this and Remember the Titans (no not Rudy-I don't have an obsession with Notre Dame like everyone out there).  I think sports films are formulaic, but this one breaks the mold!  So while I live at home I will drink the kool-aid, and talk about basketball as much as I need to.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Green Lantern Took Away my will to want Another Film and Made Me Fear there would be Another

 Green Lantern (1 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Directed by: Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye)
Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Mark Strong

When you have a film with five writers that scares me.  When it comes to writing a film or television episode the fewer writers the better.  I have the motto too many cooks spoil the pot, and I think that this is where Green Lantern went wrong.  This film falls in line more with Daredevil than films like the latest X-Men or The Dark Knight.

Now, I am an active comic book fan, but i must admit i do not know much about he back story or history of this character.  This films follows Hal Jordan a test pilot, screw up, and ladies man who is chosen by the ring of a dying alien to become a new green lantern.  The green ring and the people though out the galaxy who have them can use these rings to will things into being.  The power of the green ring is will.  As Jordan is taken away he finds out that he will be part of an intergalactic squadron who protect the galaxy.  While there he meets of people who possess the green rings, famous characters from the comic like Sinestro, Tomar-Re, and Kilowog.

Meanwhile on Earth Hal forms has love interest in his childhood and another test pilot and business woman Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).  Carol is the rock that helps give Hal the ability to have the will to fight for his destiny as a green lantern.  The main villain (Paralax) is on of the fallen elders whom created the green lantern that has formed another emotion fear, and create villainy in Hector (Peter Sarsgaard).  Like all first super hero films this film works to fill in the back story and create a good action film.

Alright, so as far as super hero films go this has been the worst this summer.  The directing is not great.  Campbell wants to make an action film, but got lost in the back story.  I think a strong director would have also gotten better performances out of the actors.  blake Lively is so wooden, and I don't buy her emotions once.  Peter Sarsgaard an often brilliant actor is cartoonish.  I also don't think the Ryan Reynolds was the right choice for this character.  I read one graphic novel before seeing this film, and just did not feel a connection between him and the character.  I think that the writing is the weakest part of this film, there were moments when the characters would deliver lines that were supposed to be funny and I just could not muster a laugh.  The lines were also cheesy, and it does not surprise me that wrote this film wrote for the awful television series No Ordinary Family.

I wanted to like this film, but I was just not compelled enough, and did not build a connection to the mythology, the story, or the characters. Sure this film is pretty to look and the action is cool, but that can't save this film. When and if they write a sequel (which I am sure they will) they need to work on the story and get a new director to build this franchise and bring it in a new direction.

My Favorite Musicals of All Time

This past Sunday night I went to show tunes at Union in Columbus, Ohio.  I sang, I laughed, and well simply put, I had an awesome time.  I love musicals, they can make you happy, you can sing a long, they can be bad and campy, but I just love them.  It made me think about my favorite musicals of all time.  Here is a list of my favorite movie musicals.

1-Moulin Rouge (2001) The movie that made me fall in LOVE with musicals.  I had seen other musicals in my life like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, but when I watched Moulin Rouge on DVD (none of my friends would see it in the movies with me), I fell in love with musicals.  I thought this film took a unique twist on the musical film, using modern day existing music to create a musical film.  There was of course one original song entitled "Come What May" which is one of the most beautiful songs.  In the film Satine (Nicole Kidman) is a courtesan who falls in love with a struggling poet Christian (Ewen McGregor) who is trying to find inspiration, and of course the two fall in love, but not without their struggles.  The story is beautiful, and it began the birth of the modern day musical and its incorporation in television and film today.  "Love is a many splendid thing love lifts up where we belong" and this film inspired my eternal love for musicals.

2-Singin in the Rain (1952) What more can you ask for with the charm of Gene Kelly as he dances down the street with an umbrella in hand and as rain pours down on him.  The film chronicles one of the funniest moments in film history, the switch from silent films to speaking pictures.  In the film Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen-and only Oscar nominated performance from the film) has a terrible voice and can't sing or act well in these films, so they bring in another actress to do the speaking for her Kathy Selden (the eternally talented Debbie Reynolds), and the singing and dancing begins.  Gene Kelly and Donald O'Conor are both hilarious and just charming in this film.  You can't help but smile, and whistle every song.  My friend Keith says that the songs don't add to the plot, but in this musical there is enough charm to make it the best musical ever made, and my second favorite musical of all time!

3-Mary Poppins (1964) Practically perfect in every way!  This was  one of my favorite childhood films.  Julie Andrews voice is a gift from God (so sad she can't sing anymore).  I loved to laugh as the characters drink tea on ceiling and sing that wonderful number. Mary Poppins is the nanny who comes to bring the Banks family together.  The family is lost as their father spends all his time at work away from his family.  Andrews portrayal as this wonderful woman earned her an Academy Award (deserving).  From the dancing on the roof tops with the number "Steppin Time", this film is just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

4-The Sound of Music (1965) Julie Andrews is on the list again as go figure another woman who goes to take care of children, but this time she plays a nun named Maria who falls in love with and ends with the father of the children, Captain Von Trap (Christopher Plummer).  The music is great, and the main cast even fights and rebels against Nazism.  There is not much more you can ask from this musical, which is a film I make sure I watch once a year around Easter.

5-West Side Story (1961) "I want to be in America!"  The story of two star crossed lovers Tony and Maria who come from different cultures meet and fall in love at a dance in the gym.  A modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet (not exactly the same details) where Riff (Tony's friend) leads the gang of white Jets and Maria's brother Bernado (Academy Award winner George Chakiris) leads the Sharks (Puerto Ricans).  In the middle of all of this is Anita (Academy Award winner Rita Moreno) who plays Bernado's girlfriend and the one person who above believes in hope and true love.  The dancing is great, the story is beautiful, and tragic.

The 60s spurred some of my favorite, and I think the best musicals of all time, I love watching a good musical.  They make me feel oh so pretty and witty and gay.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First Day of Summer: Let's Celebrate-Wet Hot American Summer Style!

While in Columbus I watched one of my favorite funny movies, EVER!  My friend's and I were having a hard time picking a movie to watch, and it came to me as soon as I saw it on Netflix, Wet Hot American Summer (2001).  This was the perfect movie for my friend, we began our bonding over the film Best in Show, so I knew that this movie would be perfect to watch.

This is probably one of the most under rated funny films in the last ten years.  I am shocked whenever i bring up this movie how few people have seen it.  The film centers around the last of summer camp at Camp Firewood in 1981, and has one of the funniest casts ever with: David Hyde Pierce, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Ian Black, Elizabeth Banks, and Christopher Meloni.

The film focuses on the funny interactions between the camp counselors and the kids, and amongst each other, and how sex, kissing, crafts, and the kid who never showers are constants at a summer camp.  I never did the summer camp thing when I was kid.  I have a friend who is working at summer camp, and I had to wonder how much of this tuff happens.  There is obvious absurd humor and things that are not realistic like a montage of the campus counselors and director in town mugging an old woman, doing drugs, and just going crazy (hilarious).

On the first day of sumer, the weather is just lovely, and well I am inside typing this.  Summer is the time to  be outside and enjoy summer camp, lay by your pool, go to the beach, have a BBQ, and hell wear white before it gets to be labor day, but instead I think everyone should rent or watch this movie instead tonight.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Pride: One Big Gay Musical Extravaganza

So my blog has been neglected the last 5 days because I was in Columbus, Ohio for the LGBT Pride 
events.  This was a wonderful grad school reunion (one month later) with my friends Steven and Lindy.  The details of the whole weekend are, well, probably too much to share, but we went out to the bars, enjoyed the parade on Saturday, and went to their show tunes night on Sunday.  I actually was awake for 24 hours (I am very tired), but it was worth it!  We did not just party it up, we relaxed and decompressed.  One thing we did get to do was relax and hang out and play with dogs and watch movies.  I think the best part about this weekend was that not only did we have fun going, out but we were to sit back relax and just chill, and get to enjoy spending time with one another.  I miss my friends already, and hope I get to visit and meet up with them more.

The theme of this weekend was well, everything gay (and meeting people in open relationships-but that is a different story.)  We even watched a gay movie, The Big Gay Musical (2009), which is on watch instant on Netflix.  The movie like most gay films follows two leads both beautiful and ripped on their quest for love.  The "actors" in this movie were a lot of models from the gay male "dating" web site Manhunt, so the acting was not the greatest.  I did not enjoy the story that much either, but they did portray things that were relate able, like being a slut vs. wanting a relationship and the risks, dating guys who are flaky, coming out etc.   The one thing I enjoyed most about this movie was the music, and the musical aspect to the film, it was campy and clever.

On Sunday night, my friend Steven and I went to do show tunes night at the bar Union.  While there they play show tunes songs from television shows, and it is just a great time.  I will give The Big Gay Musical a pass for now, because like show tunes night movies like this are not meant to win awards, they are meant to be fun for a specific audience to enjoy, and they provide a window into a world of issues gay men face, and the fun of the musicals.  Now, I will not be running out to buy this movie, but it fit the mood of the weekend.

Happy Pride to Everyone!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Oscars will have Varying Number of Best Picture Nominees: I say "Make up your Mind ATAS!!!"

Here are the details which I retrieved from and from Bruce Davis the outgoing academy executive director, and the producers of the 2008 show Bill Condon and Larry Mark. 

"Bruce Davis, the outgoing academy executive director, explained the change in a statement: "If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number."
Interestingly, eight was the number proposed by Bill Condon and Larry Mark who produced the 2008 Oscars. That was how many that were nominated at the 5th Academy Awards back in 1932; "Grand Hotel" won Best Picture. However, the academy board went with an even 10, which had been the slate of Best Picture nominees from the ninth to the 16th years of the Oscars."
Oscar Statues
Here are my cents, make up your damn mind.  Stop flip flopping this is not a Presidential debate, you are not John Kerry or Mitt Romney, make up your minds.  I like the fact that there have been 10 nominees in the Best Picture category.  Sure in the first year The Blind Side received a nominated (not deserving of a spot in the top twenty), but overall the nominees have been great.  This system has worked, so where's the problem?
I do think that making sure the nominees are qualified makes sense, but will this flexible number prevent films from being nominated again, like The Dark Knight or films that do not fit within the traditional genre that the ATAS tends to go for.  I know the Oscars are trying to shake things up and continue to make things interesting.  By the time the Oscars happen these days the winners know they are winning, there have been very few surprises anymore.
This random number of nominees is not going to shake things up, rather I think voters should think with their own minds and pick the winners they think SHOULD win, rather than the winners who have been rubber stamped prior.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nicolas Cage: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Nicolas CageSo I have had a little bit bloggers block the last two days, and so I asked my facebook friends to come up with the subject for today's blog.  Only two people responded, and well it was a great suggestion.  My friend and former co-worker Kelsey Stockton stated that I should do a blog on Nicolas Cage: the Good, the bad, and the ugly.  For those of you who don't know Nicolas Cage was actually born Nicolas Coppola; he is in fact the nephew of fame Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola and cousin to Sofia.  Nic Cage changed his name in order to make his own success.  Although in the first major movie he starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982),  Nicolas Cage was billed as Nicolas Coppola.  Regardless of his name, the man has had some career highs, some bad choices, and some huge bombs.

The Good: 

Nicolas Cage's career started pretty strong; he starred in Francis Ford Coppola's film Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) as Charley Bodell the love interest of the title character Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) who goes back to relive her high school days with full knowledge of her future.  This was not huge critical hit, but it was still a good start.

The year after Cage did the Coen Brothers film (before they were as cool as they are now) Raising Arizona (1987).  Cage starred opposite Holly Hunter, and this is a great feather in his cap.  This film is in line with all of the other Coen films, it's dark funny, and just one of those great under appreciated films in the year it was made.

 In 1988 he had another great film on his hand starring opposite Cher in Norman Jewison's Moonstruck.  Of all three of these films Moonstruck was the biggest success and gave Cage the most recognition; he would soon start to give him much more name recognition.  The recognition he wanted to gain by changing his name.

'Leaving Las Vegas' (1996) starring Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue
Within these three years Cage worked with great directors and started to build himself a wonderful career.  There were some not so great films for a few years (that will be in he bad), but in reality they were nothing that that would shatter someone's reputation.  In 1995 he did a film that in my mind brought him to the pinnacle of his career.  The film Leaving Las Vegas, brought Cage numerous acting nominations and awards including an Oscar for Best Actor.  Cage played an alcoholic who built an interesting relationship with a hooker (Elisabeth Shue).  This is Cage's best film and best work ever.

In 2002 Cage hit another career milestone playing Charlie and Donald Kauffman in the film Adaptation about, well about Charlie Kauffman trying to adapt the book The Orchid Thief, into a film that would be worth watching.  Cage played the the dual role with such ease and great comic timing; he earned an Oscar nomination for this role.

Cage had two other films in the 2000s that have received some critical support (and have actually been good films) The Bade Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans (2009), and Kick-Ass (2010).  Cage certainly has had some great career moments, but I am not sure if they can correct the bad and the ugly

The Bad: 

In his post Moonstruck years Nicolas Cage mad some bad films.  Here is the thing some of these movies are guilty pleasures for me, I think they are bad, but can't help but watch these movies.

1994 was a busy year for Nic with bad films.; he had Guarding Tess, Trapped in Paradise, and It Could Happen to You.  Guarding Tess is just not good, It Could Happen to You is an interesting premise, but Rosie Perez steals every scene, and Trapped in Paradise is awful, but is one of my biggest pleasures because of its three leading men (which includes Cage,  Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey).

Then there were his action years of 1996 and 1997.  Cage starred in The Rock in 1996 where he had to enlist the help of Sean Connery to help prevent biological weapons from being used on Alcatraz.  Then in 1997 he played a convict on hijacked plane  transporting prisoners in Con-Air (he was the good convict who fought against the bad guys).  The he starred opposite John Travolta in the absurdly bad Face/Off, which was just a mess.

The Family Man (2000) and City of Angels (1998) were his attempt in trying to handle love stories (fail).

 His second attempt at the action/adventure genre happened with with National Treasure (2004) was a less intelligent version of the Dan Brown books.

I would put many of these films in the category of bad, but not unwatchable.  A lot of these films did well at the box office, and had mass audience appeal.  They lacked the quality, but you could tell that Cage was still trying to pick things that interested him.

The Ugly:

With this group of films I don't even want to waster my mind thinking about them, but here is the list of what I would describe as some of the worst films ever (which happened to star Nicolas Cage).

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)
8 mm (1999)
Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)
Lord of War (2005)
World Trade Center (2006)
The Wicker Man (2006)
Ghost Rider (2007)
Next (2007)
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)
Season of the Witch (2011)
Drive Angry (2011)

14 films that are terrible and poorly made.  Cage has potential to be a great actor with two Academy Award nominations (1 win) to his name and a slew of other well made films he could have a better acting legacy.  Cage has picked some terrible films in the last decade, and has become what I like to call a paycheck actor.  Most of the jobs seem to be for a paycheck, and not to be more successful.  The only problem is many of these films did so poor at the box office, so why are people still casting him in films? I hope Mr. Cage has an agent who surfs the blogs and sees this, realizes that it's time to take a look back at his career and weigh what films to take in the future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Hate a Sweep! When Films Win it All at the Oscars

So tonight's Tony Awards were fun as usual, and Neil Patrick Harris was a great host.  I did not get to see as many shows that were eligible for this season but I did see The Importance of Being Earnest, Catch Me If you Can, and Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown.  I hope to see The Book of Mormon and The Normal Heart (before it closes).  The Book of Mormon basically had a clean sweep only losing in the Lead Actor in a Musical category, choreography and Featured Actor in a Musical.  This looks like a great show, and I am sure it deserves all the awards it won, but I hate a sweep, and this goes for all award shows!

When films sweep it takes away from the anticipation of the nominees.  As Chris Rock presented the award for Best Musical he made a joke stating not knowing who the winner of this award is silly.  Rock stated "You don't need to buy a hooker dinner to get her to go to bed with you."  The hooker is going to sleep with you because no matter what she's a hooker.

There were 3 films that won 11 Oscars:

ben hur chariot race.jpgBen-Hur (1959)-This film had 13 Oscar nominations, so it only lost 2 awards that evening.  Of the nominees I probably would have picked this film, but this was also the year of Some Like it Hot, a true classic great funny film.  I would have picked Some Like it Hot as the Best Picture winner and would have given a couple of awards.
In those days films about cross dressing were easily bested by a film ancient Rome with amazing technical aspects (although Ben-Hur has lots of homo-erotic moments).

Titanic (1997) -  Titanic received 14 nominations and lost three two in the acting categories, and one for its screenplay.  This film was technical marvel, but could have shared many of its awards with LA Confidential the noir murder mystery film directed by Curtis Hanson.  Titanic was a powerhouse film at the box office, and it commanded the attention of more viewers for an award show.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)-  Was nominated for 11 awards and won all of their awards.  This might be one of the films that came closest to deserving all 11 of these awards on this list, but could have lost film editing to City of God or 21 Grams, lost Best Original Song to A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow from A Mighty Wind, and Costume Design to Girl with a Pearl Earring.

There is no film, play musical, or television show that deserves to win everything.  I love it when films deserve to win for what they deserve to win for.  When you watch an award show, you can't help but wonder if voters get lazy and check the box for the same film or show over and over again.  I hope voters don't get lazy, and they actually do take the time to pick the best rather than play a political game and pick the something because its hip or cool to pick.

Does Produced by Steven Spielberg Mean Anything Anymore?

After seeing Super 8 last night, I remembered the  the thing the studios highlighted most (you may argue) but that this film in produced by Steven Spielberg, and not that it was directed by J.J. Abrams.  Sure they mentioned Abrams as the director, but the named highlighted most is Spielberg name.  I get the it!  Spielberg is a big name; he has made some of the best films as a director: Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, Jaws, Catch Me if you Can, and has had had numerous blockbusters: Jurassic Park, E.T.: Extra Terrestrial, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Between these two lists there are films that were both successful and critically acclaimed, and I admire what Spielberg has done to transcend the concept of blockbusters and well made films.

Now onto my point, before I saw Super 8, I actually said to my friend Keith-does attaching your name as a producer to everything make your brand less valuable.  The Spielberg name is a brand these days; he has helped put together some of the best most successful films of all time.  His name as producer has also been linked to most all of the films he has directed and lately now films like Super 8, the Transformers films, the Men in Black films, and numerous television series and mini-series.  After looking at his list of films he has produced the only series I wish he took back, was the Transformers series, but there are true fans out there that enjoy these films.  I still think anything with Michael Bay attached is terrible, but that is another topic.

After looking at Spielberg's track record in both film and television he has helped bring to life someone of the best, there have also been some misfires.  To me, this man is one of the hardest working men in Hollywood; he has created so much quality material.  The one problem I think I have with this is that he has become more of a brand like McDonald's that helps finance things and pushes them forward.  I admire his work ethic and the fact that he has taken film to a whole new level.

Movies have become too production focused and too concerned with number rather than focusing on a well written screenplay.  In my opinion Spielberg's films have never had the strongest writing.  His films rely more on grandeur of his directing style.  The same can be said for Spielberg as a producer.  When he is not in the directors chair his films fit within that same realm.

transformers 2 shia labeouf and megan fox 400x266 Movie Review: Transformers 2I hope Spielberg keeps bring wonderful cinematic gems to both television and film.  I also want him to
explore filmmaking outside of his comfort zone so that he can make films that not only have a great production value but a script that is worth moving mountains.  I think having a brand helps make films successful financially, but I also think that it can make things more commercial than creatively driven.  In the future when we have a director/producer who doesn't have as strong a balance and uses the brand wrong we filmmaking may move into more uncreative territories with constant sequels and unoriginal ideas...oh wait, maybe we are there already.

Super 8 has a Super Start but Falls Short in the End

Super 8 (3 out of 5 stars)
Directed and Written by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, and Ron Eldard

As I sat back in my seat last night I could feel the nostalgia of the 1980s Spielberg movie.  I feel like the theme with both the films I saw for this week was nostalgia.  Super 8 takes the viewers back on a journey to the late 1970s, through the vantage point of children.  J.J. Abrams the writer and director takes the viewer on a journey to a time when technology was still in the early stages, while kids had walk men and film could be developed in only three days, and there was ability to use your imagination.

The film starts with a man changing the numbers at a factory for the amount of numbers they have not had an accident, and then pans to a funeral.  The funeral is key to the emotional status of of some of the main characters, and drivers their actions (some done well, some not).  The films follows around a group of young friends who encounter a train accident as they are filming their own zombie movie for a film festival.    Soon after the accident there are a lot of strange things that start happening and the group sets out to not only finish their film, but find out what is going in their town.

Without giving too much of the plot away this film does a great job of using its younger actors.  Joel Courtney who plays the lead of the film Joe Lamb the son of the sheriff and Elle Fanning who plays Alice Dainard the older girl with drunk father are the best.  I would go as far as to say that if this film picks up steam Miss. Fanning could beat her sister to an Oscar Nomination.  The other members of the group Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills), Charles (Riley Griffiths), and Martin (Gabriel Basso) help add both heart and comic relief to this film.  In fact this group of younger actors is on of the best assembled since probably the 1980s in the vein of films  like Stand By Me.

The adults in the film deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), the Louis Dainard character (Ron Eldard), and the air force man Nelec (Noah Emmerich) are all under developed characters.  Like in those old movies that center around younger children, the adults come across as cliche caricatures.  I think this element takes away emotional heft from the film, but the children do such a great job that is almost does not matter

The one thing that takes away from this film is that J.J. Abrams starts with such strength, and the film loses the steam it had in the beginning of the film.   With a film like like this there is a natural build up to what is causing the problem in the town.  The end reveal is not a let down, but it loses the pacing that the beginning of the film.  Like with Cloverfield (2008) the film starts out with a strong emotional pacing and falls flat in the end.  This film is much better than that, and Abrams has done a great constructing a solid summer blockbuster.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Movies that Put Life into Perspective: 500 Days of (Summer) Edition

I am a romantic, when I meet someone and feel a connection I become a ball of mush and wear my feelings on my sleeve.  In times like these there are certain things I cling to to help give me perspective, usually I use my friends to help give me guidance in situations like this.  As my regular readers know,  I am home in Albany, NY and there aren't many friends around here for me to talk with.  My friends have been great via phone and face book, but there was something that helped put things into perspective even more today, the film 500 Days of Summer (2009).

(500) Days of SummerThe film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tom) and Zooey Deschanel (Summer) a pair of friends/lovers.  The film takes us on a journey throughout the different days of their relationship, and as the narrator says at the beginning of the film "This is a story of boy meets girls but you should know up front this is not a love story."  Tom is a hopeless romantic who believes that love exists, and is powerful, while Summer is the opposite and thinks that love is silly.   Without giving any of the plot of the film away, 500 Days of Summer highlights those key moments when you meet someone and how those moments make you feel.  After their first time having sex Tom has a dance number choreographed to a Hall and Oates song.

I have to say I connect with the Tom character (a lot).  I too may have misread The Graduate (until I grew up) and well like Tom idealizes Summer and the relationship that they have; he makes too much out things and there are moments where his idealizations become a hopeful reality.  There are moments in all of our lives when everyone does this with someone they like, but none more than Tom in this film.  Usually this film makes me mope and hope for love, but today this film made think how relationships are complicated and there are so many ways in which they can be defined.  I think film (realistic well-made films) can shed light on things going on in our lives.  Now I just saw Super 8 tonight and I do not think that will help me solve any unsolved mysteries, but there was something that told me to turn on HBO today and this movie was on.  It put a smile on my face, and as I type to the soundtrack I will close this with a big smile on my face.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Midnight in Paris proves the City of Love Still has Power

Midnight in Paris (4 out of 5 stars)
Directed  and Written by: Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Bullets Over Broadway)
Starring: Owen Willson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates)

What can I say about Mr. Allen's latest film, but  that this film is a beautifully crafted and witty love letter to Paris.  The opening sequence of this film is a set of images of the city Paris at different times of the day, with different types of weather.  Darius Khondji and Johanne Debas do a great capturing the the beauty of the city of love and set the stage for this tale which not only stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, but the scene stealer in this film is the city of Paris.

The film follows Gil (Owen Wilson) a successful Hollywood screen writer who wants to be a novelist.  Gil is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) and is Paris with her parents and her father is closing a business deal.  Gil and inez run into a man she used to be in love with Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol played by one of the funniest newcomers Nina Arianda.  Paul is this know-it-all who tries to impress Inez and show up Gil.  As Paul, Carol, and Inez go out dancing one night this leave Gil to explore Paris at Midnight and the story goes into a dreamlike state that is amazing and beautiful.  Without giving much of the unique plot away this story is mostly about the idealization of the past, and the connection that we all have to nostalgia of the time past.

Wilson does a good job playing the role of playing the neurotic role Allen always uses for his leading man. When I see a Woody Allen film (even that does not star Woody) I know his leading male will have similar characteristics.  Wilson does a great balancing neurotic tendencies with genuine idealism and hope that he will be inspired by Paris and his experiences throughout the film with the different literary figures and Adrianna (a captivating Marion Cotillard).  Allen's writing is sharp and one his best films in years (which not be saying much), but I just was sucked into the story.

Midnight in Paris is of course a love letter to not only Paris but the historical figures that inhabited this city, and it creates a story with beauty and grace that leaves the viewer thinking about their own nostalgic experiences.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Living at Home in Your Late Twenties Part Seven: No Man is an Island

2002_about_a_boy_006.jpgBeing back in Albany, New York has been interesting for me.  After a great day on Tuesday, filled with many fun times (mini-golfing, swimming, going to a drive-in and cuddling) it has come to my attention that I don't have any friends left who live in this city.  Most of my other time here has been spent watching 30 Rock, sitting by my pool and relaxing (I am not going to complain.  Moving back home has been a lonely experience, because well it is often difficult to just put yourself out there.

Last night,  I watched the film About a Boy (2002) which stars Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, and introduced a young Nicholas Hoult.   The film centers around a man named Will (Grant) and his interactions with an odd single mother, Fiona (Collette) and her son Marcus (Hoult).  The film starts off with the British version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and the the first question is "Which famous person said No Man is an Island?"  The question is answered seriously by Will with the answer by Bon Jovi (but the audience gets the joke or should) that sets up the story this man is alone, doesn't work, and needs more in his life.  This is my favorite film with Hugh Grant; he is great and has such great acting chemistry with Nicholas Hoult.  Hoult has proven himself to be a great talent, and his starring role in this film has helped him to land terrific roles.

The main point of the film is that "No Man is an Island" and we need people to help us get through the day to day crap that we deal with.  This film has terrific performances, the writing is sharp, and this is a truly solid film.  The message is great, and made me think about how excited I am to move to Boston, and start a new experience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Breakthrough Performer June: Jennifer Lawrence is a True Shape Shifter with her Acting Style

After seeing X-Men: First Class, for the third time yesterday at the drive-ins (what wonderful night).  I realized I was not just blown away by Michael Fassbender, but Jennifer Lawrence is another talent on the rise.  In X-Men Lawrence plays the shape shifting mutant Mystique and adds so much more layer to the role than her former portrayer.  In this film Lawrence does more than kick butt, we learn more about her character, and what Raven aka Mystique had to deal with with her blue skin.

Lawrence first came onto my radar last year in the film Winter Bone (2010) where Ree a young girl who lives with her family in the Ozark; she has to take care of younger brother and sister because her mother is sick, and her father is a criminal, drug addict, and he has disappeared.  When a cop arrives at their door; he informs Ree that her father posted bail and has disappeared.  Ree has to find her father in order to keep their house and protect her siblings.  Lawrence fights her way through the male dominated world, and and asks her uncle to help her keep her family from losing everything.  Lawrence was nominated for several awards for this role, including the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress.  Lawrence is stunning in this film, and I was blown away by her tour de force performance.  She is a fierce actress, and I look forward to seeing her in more movies.

Lawrence has in fact landed one of the most coveted female roles in Hollywood, in book to film adaptation of The Hunger Games, which will be released in 2012.  My cousin and my friend Keith told me about this book, and I am looking to start to read this after I get The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Lawrence's talent will take her far in films.