Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hitchcock is a Generic, but Entertaining Interpretation Brought to Life by Solid Performances from Hopkins and Mirren

Hitchcock (2 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil)
Written by John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson

You know how they say you should never meet your heroes, well they were half right in this case.  Alfred Hitchcock is a hero of mine, only in the artistic sense, of course.  Hitch as he was referred, was and will forever be known as "the master of suspense."  His films ranging from Rear Window to Psycho, and many more, defined a genre, and the future of film.  Along with his films complex human characteristics Hitch himself has was Dexter would refer to as a "dark passenger."  Yet there is not enough complexity.  Hitchcock is a generic, but entertaining interpretation brought to life by solid performances from Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.

Hitchcock starts with the premiere of one of his biggest hits, and most films famous films North by Northwest.  After the camera's stop flashing, Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) is asked by a reporter if he is getting to old, and whether or not he is thinking about retirement.  This triggers Hitch to rebuke the reporters question by pushing forward and looking for his next film.  With his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) by his side, Hitch moves away from a film she suggests, and moves forward with a film passed over by many based on a book entitled "Psycho."  Psycho is based on real life events about a man who killed people, and Hitch is fascinated with the man's dark psyche, connecting with his own dark and twisted mind.  Hitch pushes forward against all odds to make a film like no one had ever seen before.

Hitchcock had some contention this year with an HBO film entitled The Girl.  This film explores Hitch's making of the film The Birds, and goes further in depth with "blonde bombshell obsession" and the dark recesses of his mind.  The problem with this film is that you feel as though you are in a bad therapy session with the director.  Hitch himself said “Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement.” One of the differences between this film and Girl is Hitchcock is a bit funnier, and much less maudlin, which helps save the day, a bit. 

Screenwriter John J. McLaughlin's may have a few more laughs, but the film is a bit all over the place. Hitchcock does try to delve into the director's psyche, but falls flat mainly because of the interplay between the story which the book Psycho was based upon.  Hitchcock (the film) wants you to associate Hitch with the killer, and the torment he faced.  While the script does not want you to think Hitch was intended to be a killer rather a disturbed man.  The script lacks the courage, and audacity to be something more bold, something which is beyond just entertaining.  The film feels disjointed.

The director Sacha Gervasi does not seem to know which direction to take this picture.  Was Hitchcock a love story? A bio-pic? An homage to Hitch, or an homage to Psycho?  Together these elements get lost in the shuffle creating a feeling that allows flaws run rampant.  Gervasi and McLaughlin have solid pieces of a puzzle which never quite fully live up to their full potential.

The savior to this film are the performances from Hopkins and Mirren.  I dare say Mirren steals the film.  While Hopkins does a wonderful Hitch and there is depth and breath to the complexity of this man, the name of the picture should have been Alma, but tickets would not have sold as well.  Alma was always the women behind the scenes who made Hitch the director/man he was; she was his knight in shining armor racing in to save the day.  

While Hopkins was great in the role, Mirren was even better.  Helen Mirren proved that role which could have almost been secondary or should have been, stole the whole film.  With the film's quick turn around time in production I often wonder if those behind the scene lost faith in the direction of the film and turned this into a film about the women in this man's life.  The women like Mirren steal the film.  Mirren has one great emotional scene that beautifully conveys what it feels like to be the women behind  the genius.  While she was the woman behind the genius even supporting players Scarlett Johansson (who plays Janet Leigh), and Jessica Biel (who plays Vera Miles) turn in solid performances.

At the end of it all while the film is no masterpiece, and there are many problems, the film was still entertaining.  There is an element of fun, especially when Hitch talks about looking for his next picture with a bird landing on his shoulder.  When the film focuses on the production Psycho I found myself giddy.  When the film focused on Alma I found myself entranced by Mirren and her effective emotional journey.  The film offers some interesting insight into Hitch as well, keeping you intrigued just enough to stay along for the journey of the master of suspense.

Moonrise Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook Lead the Nomination totals with the Independent Spirit Awards

Both Moonrise Kingdom, and Silver Linings Playbook both have five nominations a piece, including Best Feature.  While the Independent Spirit Awards (ISA) rarely mean anything to the Academy Awards the the films with the most nominations usually get a nomination or two. 
Silver Linings Playbook was already a sure bet for a handful of Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and Lead Actress.  One interesting omission is Robert DeNiro, this could happen come nomination morning for the Oscars as well, depending on how the acting branch feel about the film.
Moonrise Kingdom leading the nominations, and winning Best Picture at the Gotham Awards helps add to its visibility.  The film did well at the box office, proving this could be in for a Best Picture nomination.  Moonrise Kingdom is a look for the Original Screenplay Oscar.  I am over the moon (pun intended) for Bruce Willis's nomination in the Supporting Actor category, I would love to see him grab some attention, which could happen at the Globes.
Here is the full list of the nominees: 
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Keep the Lights On"
"Moonrise Kingdom"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
Wes Anderson, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Julia Loktev, "The Loneliest Planet"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ira Sachs, "Keep the LIghts On"
Martin McDonagh, "Seven Psychopaths"
Linda Cardellini, "Return"
Emayatzy Corinealdi, "Middle of Nowhere"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver LInings Playbook"
Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, "Smashed"
Jack Black, "Bernie"
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
John Hawkes, "The Sessions"
Thur Lindhardt, "Keep the Lights On"
Matthew McConaughey, "Killer Joe"
Wendell Pierce, "Four"
Rosemarie Dewitt, "Your Sister's Sister"
Ann Dowd, "Compliance"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Brit Marling, "The Sound of My Voice"
Lorraine Toussaint, "The Middle of Nowhere"
Matthew McConaughey, "Magic Mike"
David Oyelowo, "Middle of Nowhere"
Sam Rockwell, "Seven Psychopaths"
Bruce Willis, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Michael Pena, "End of Watch"
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Zoe Kazan, "Ruby Sparks"
Martin McDonagh, "Seven Psychopaths"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, "Keep the Lights On"
Yoni Brook, "Valley of Saints"
Lol Crowley, "Here"
Ben Richardson, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Roman Vasyanov, "End of Watch"
Robert Yeoman, "Moonrise Kingdom"
"Fill the Void"
"Gimme the Loot"
"Safety Not Guaranteed"
"Sound of My Voice"
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Rama Burshtein, "Fill the Void"
Derek Connolly, "Safety Not Guaranteed"
Christopher Ford, "Robot & Frank"
Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, "Celeste and Jesse Forever"
Jonathan Lisecki, "Gayby"
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (best feature under $500,000)
"Breakfast with Curtis"
"Middle of Nowhere"
"Mosquita y Mari"
"The Color Wheel"
"How to Survive a Plague"
"Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present"
"The Central Park Five"
"The Invisible War"
"The Waiting Room"
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"
"Rust and Bone"
"War Witch"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lifetime's Liz and Dick is Equal Parts Train Wreck and Hilariously Bad Sketch Comedy

There is not much to say about Lifetime's television movie Liz and Dick, mostly because I am speechless, and tired from laughing so hard.  The story follows Liz and Dick, or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton mostly through their careers in the 1960s, their meeting on the set of Cleopatra, hating one another then falling in love.  The point of the film, albeit this did come across, was that these two folks were two of the first celebrities, in the way we know now.  They loved each other, but their private lives becoming public got in the way of the actual love affair.  Sounds like a great story, one that would make an excellent film, right? Wrong.

The first problem is that you have two of the most complex films stars played by amateurs.  Let's take a look at Ms. Lohan first.  Lindsey Lohan and Elizabeth Taylor have had similar lives.  Like Taylor Lohan was a child star who may have grown up too quickly, thus preventing her from understanding normal.  There is a line in the film where Taylor takes time off from the movies (at age 29) and states I have made 29 pictures I do not know how to play games or do real things.  Taylor went through a lot of emotional hell, and the tabloids ate it up.

Much like Taylor Lohan is going through quite the same ordeal, the difference Taylor had talent, and Lohan has lost her talent in the bars, or allegedly doing cocaine with her mother.  While Taylor's personal demons affected her much more in her later years; she still won two Oscars, and had some of the most amazing performances in film.  Lohan has tried to recoup but failed at hosting Saturday Night Live, which was a major foreshadowing of this film.  Lohan's portrayal of Taylor was painful, and hilarious, but in the way Faye Dunaway portrayed Joan Crawford.  Nothing is "convincing" about this conversion; she did not look like her, the make-up, and hair were bad, and she did Liz wrong.  Apparently Ms. Lohan was a terror on the set, using the excuse she was trying to get in character; she needed to be an even bigger bitch apparently.

Grant Bowler is not without fault; he did played Richard Burton as an offish buffoon rather than the complicated drunk ladies man.  Bowler has been suave and debonair in many different roles, like televisions Ugly Betty, in fact that should have influence his acting more, but he flat lined.  Burton was just as complex as Liz, but he was beyond boring in this film.

Director Lloyd Kramer, and writer Christopher Monger had a gold mine in their lap.  Lifetime was salivating at the tit, with the juicy material of the romance between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but they struck out.  They gambled with the wrong leading lady who should have tried to not play herself on screen, but rather capture the complicated person that was the beautiful/talented Elizabeth Taylor.

2012 Entertainer(s) of the Year

Although we are only in the last week of November, this year's entertainers of the year would be hard to topple.  Here is my list of entertainers of the year (2012): 

1-The Avengers

The biggest box office hit of the year, was the product of numerous contingencies, including Disney, Marvel, the cast, the crew behind the scenes, and of course the ensemble.  Let’s start with the master behind the marketing, Disney.  Disney did an amazing job making sure that everyone of these films connected at the end, and the story tied together to make sure this built up to one large scale event, and the event will continue. 

Enter the comic genius/director Joss Whedon.  Whedon who has written for Marvel before (Astonishing X-Men), was the perfect choice to direct this film; he loves the comic world and transformed the Marvel world’s greatest heroes into tangible well made film.  This man’s vision along with people who worked behind the scenes on the visual effects, sound, and editing constructed one power house action flick!

Once you have a great marketing strategy, an amazing director, and creative team, it’s time for the actual Avengers to Asemble!  Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (Tony Stark), Chris Evans as Captain America (Steve Rogers), Chris Hemsworth as Thor,  new addition Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk (Bruce Baner), through is Scar Johannsen as the Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeyes, and you have one solid team.  Then bring back Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, the man behind SHIELD, and Tom Hiddleston as the mischievous villain Loki, and you have one great ensemble.

Bringing all of these elements created one of the most entertaining films of the year, and brought a comic book fan’s dreams come true.


HBO has had some good/great years, and depending on their new programming  slate that can push them over the top.  This year HBO also had some of the best original films along with their original series putting this network miles above the rest (as usual).

Game Change, which won the Best Movie/Mini-Series at the Emmy Awards, and also took home the Lead Actress Award (Julianne Moore) and Writing, and Directing prizes.  The film centered around John McCain, and Sarah Palin’s bid for the White House in 2008, and of the all the of all the television films this one was truly the best of the year.

HBO has been focused on successful Drama’s for most of its time, and they have been the most successful for the network aside from Sex and the City, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  This year HBO proved they can be the king/queen of comedy.  HBO had two hits with audiences, and critics, the shows Veep and Girls.  One of the best parts about these shows being solid for the network is that they are female driven, which is also rare for HBO.

Along with these two new brilliant shows, HBO still has Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and Enlightened to help make this one of the best networks on the air because of its wide array of programming.  This may be the best line-up the network has ever had!

3-Channing Tatum
The man was a beast at the box office this year, and had three films: 21 Jump Street made 138 million, The Vow made 125 million, and Magic Mike made 113 million.  This is a rare feet, there are no longer stars that bring people to the box office the way they did in the past (or well as many).  Having three films make over 100 million, and be based on the popularity of a star does not happen as often either.  Channing Tatum is one popular guy, with whom both the ladies and men swoon over; he is the leading man of the year.  Tatum was also voted the sexiest man alive by People Magazine, and star of the year by GQ, with all these accolades this guy is unstoppable. 

4- The Ensemble from Homeland

Homeland’s season one had strong popularity, and the ensemble worked well together.  In September Homeland won 4 key Emmy awards including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama (Damien Lewis), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama (Claire Danes), and Outstanding Writing.  While Danes and Lewis, and the creative team were singled out for their contributions the who ensemble is what makes this show tick.  Brody and Carrie would be nothing without their counterparts.  Brody’s wife (while grating sometimes) plays Jessica well, and she balances out much of the show.  Carrie finds her stability with Saul Berenson a co-worker played by Mandy Patinkin, Hollah!  These four folks along with David Harewood, keep the energy going within this show.  I have to exclude Brody’s children, as they drive me nuts!

 5- Taylor Swift

She may be never getting back together, with whoever she dated :cough Jake Gyllenhaal cough: and he single is one of the catchiest I have ever heard.  Taylor Swift may have to realize that one of these days these break-ups is about her,  but for now as long as she keeps getting dumped, that’s right dumped, she is going to be making lots and lots of money.

Taylor Swift’s album Red sold 1,280,000 copies in its first week, artists do not accomplish these anymore, there are very few who succeed as much as this young lady does on the album sales charts.  Sift has also sold 623,000 digital downloads from itunes of her single “We are Never Getting Back Together.”  These two numbers make her the most entertaining musician of the year!

6- Jennifer Lawrence

From The Hunger Games to Silver Linings Playbook this girl has it all the box office power, and the ability to act circles around everyone.  The Hunger Games was no Twilight, the film was much better, and let Lawrence turn in a great/convincing portrait as one of the most memorable characters in recent films/literature Katniss Everdeen.  After re-watching the Hunger Games again recently I was blown away even in this film that Lawrence gave a solid performance.

Yet she will be recognized for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook come award season, and rightfully.  Lawrence is funny, and heartbreaking within this film, and you feel for her as she finds companionship in a man who is lost within his life, like her.  The award season has not started but Lawrence is an early favorite to win at the Globes, and even to be a favorite in the Lead Actress category at the Oscars.  Lawrence is force to be reckoned with, and there is no stopping this woman!

7- James Bond

This was the 50th anniversary of this character in film, and there was a special edition box set released, which has been flying off the shelves like gang busters.  Along with this special edition box set, there was of course the main reason this character made the list this year, and that is release of the 23rd film, entitled Skyfall.  Skyfall, is now the highest grossing bond movie of all time, the film is incredible, and it has taken the character along with his current portrayer Daniel Craig.  During Thanksgiving weekend, Skyfall was going toe to toe with the box office powerhouse Twilight.  The quality of the film along with the strong support has brought this character back on top, metaphorically speaking.

8- Ben Affleck

This was a tough call between Steven Spielberg, and Ben Affleck.  Spielberg’s Lincoln is taking off bigger than anyone would have expected, but it’s this younger director/actor/writer who has captured audiences across the globe with his film Argo.  Affleck is one of the most talented men working today, and Argo is one the best/most entertaining films of the year.  In front of the camera Affleck gave one of the best performances of his career (too bad in this crowded category he will get lost) he was subtle, and yet unnerving with his actions as the CIA agent turned fake producer.  Behind the lens Affleck’s direction was brilliant; he was able to make a film that was thrilling, captivating, and hilarious, three hard elements to achieve within one film, bravo!

9-Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Even Peters

While the first edition of American Horror Story aired in 2011, and the cast was brilliant then, but Ryan Murphy brought back a few of the best from season one, proving five folks to be some of the most entertaining folks of 2012.

Together Lange, Quinto , Paulson, Rabe, and Peters and fiercely wonderful as the have taken on new personas in this second mini-series from Murphy.  These are the folks who will most likely return for part III next year, and entertain television audiences once again.  Ryan Murphy has a knack for finding good talent, and using them well amongst his ensemble, and these five actors are some of television’s hardest working folks, proving scary works even on the small screen.

10-Seth MacFarlene and Ted

Raunchy comedies do well these days, and MacFarlene who brings the raunch to television on a weekly basis with Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show is the man to fill these shoes.  MacFarlene has humor, which many would call crude, but he is one of the funniest, and most talented men working today.

MacFarlene toppled the myths that R rated films can’t do well (once again, although people keep forgetting).  Ted the talking bear himself may get more credit than MacFarlene, but the two are one in the same (obviously) and they bring the laughs all the time. 

MacFarlene also took to the stage at Studio 6H with SNL, and was season’s best host thus far; he can sing, dance, and do great impersonations.  With all of these things going for him MacFarlene was asked to be the host of the Academy Awards next year, and incredible honor.  This made me a thunder buddy for life!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Things Kevin is Thankful For in Movies, Music, and TV 2012

As today is officially thanksgiving, here is the list of things in movies, music, and television that I am thankful for:


One of the best year's for action films (with brains and braun) The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, and Skyfall

-The summer started with a Hulk smash. When Joss Whedon, one of the ultimate comic book fan boys, was picked to direct The Avengers I was as giddy as a school girl.  There is always a little fear that your dream film will not be made, but Joss did a fantastic job, and set the ball rolling.

-Up next was The Dark Knight Rises.  While the film did not hit the same mark as The Dark Knight, the conclusion to the trilogy was brilliantly executed, and Nolan should be pleased as punch (although he will not get an Oscar nomination.

-Rian Johnson's Looper had one of the best original screenplays of the year.  The trailer for this film made me nervous, but with good word of mouth I had to check out this film.  To my surprise this was one of the best films I have seen this year.

Last but not least was the third installment in ever changing James bond franchise.  While some will gripe that the film steers away from the traditional Bond mentality, I argue that film does the impossible, diverting from the traditional while maintaining and establishing the Bond lore.

Ben Affleck (director/actor/writer, extraordinaire) Argo

Is this the the same guy Family Guy made fun of about writing the Good Will Hunting screenplay?  Argo was not only a smart film, but one of the most entertaining of the year.  This was one perfect blend of thriller/humor/drama, something almost impossible to do, but this film achieves the goal.

The Year of the Men (isn't that every year?) Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day Lewis, John Hawkes, Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Denzel Washington

I am not going to highlight the brilliance about each of these performances, but these men have proven themselves this year, and are going to be part of the most competitive Best Actor line-up at the Oscars since I have been alive.  Last year was seen as the year of the women, but this year the men have strong armed things, but with these performances, I will allow them their day!


Before I write my list I have to state that I am disappointed in most of the music that was released within the 2012 calendar year, most of the albums I liked were released at the end of 2012, so this list is going to be rather short.

Frank Ocean-Channel Orange-He's been Thinking bout Me!

One of the most beautiful, and powerful albums to be released in 2012.  While most of the news about this artist centered around his sexual orientation, the album and music within it transcend this story, and have proven to be one of the strongest albums of the year.


Chevy Chase is Gone from Community, and October 19th aka January Return!
Today the story went on to state that Chase would not show up in most of the last episodes, and while I am sad the show is going off the air, I am done with this old man's crank attitude.  With that said I am beyond excited the show's return date was set, but this also makes me sad because the show is closer to the end than the beginning.

Oliver Queen's Green Arrow

Stephen Tramell is not only one badass, but he is probably sexier than Tom Welling's Superman, inhabiting a Bruce Wayne like playboy role.  The show is one of my favorite new series on the air.

Mindy Kailing belief is Rom Com's

Every week tuning in and watching Mindy Kailing on The Mindy Project helps me to believe that I am not a crazy single, but like her someone who believes in happy endings.

Boys II Menorah 

Speaking of Happy Endings, can I hire Max and Brad to amp up my Bar Mitzvah, I can go back and be 16 again for this, correct?

ABC soaptastic line-up-Once Upon a Time, Revenge,  and Scandal

I have been told I am missing out on Nashville, but for now I will stick with wonderfully magical fairytale world, the coniving world of Emily Thorn, and the wickedly clever/smart Olivia Pope.

HBO girl's Lena Dunham and Julia Louis Dreyfuss

How could you not be thankful for two of the funniest women on television.  HBO has really only had Sex and the City with strong female comedic leads, but these two shows have proven they need to do more of that.  These two women star in two of the best shows of the year, and they are great!

Let the Oscar Bait Season Begin with the Life of Pi

Today Ang Lee's released his first critically acclaimed film in seven years, Life of Pi.  Lee has had a wide variety of films in his repertoire, from Sense and Sensibility, to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and his best film Brokeback Mountain.  While Mountain and Sense and Sensibility were dependent on acting and the screenplay Hidden Dragon was more of a director's feat, and technical masterpiece.  Life of Pi looks to be in the same vein as Hidden Dragon, adding the 3D element.

While Lee is an incredible director, Life of Pi fits into a recent trend for me, as a film lover, films critics and Oscar voters may rubber stamp, but I have no desire to see.  From the first time I saw the preview for Life of Pi, I was a bit underwhelmed, and there was no drive for me to want to see the film.  While I am not providing a convincing argument against wanting to see the film, no am I trying to convince others not to see this film, I feel as though this may be one of those "Oscar pictures" I miss in the theatres because it just does not look to have appealing story.  Life of Pi looks like one of those films that will be visually stunning, but just lacks the depth I need from a screenplay.  While Ang Lee rarely works on films like this, the involvement on James Cameron is not shocking, as his films tend to have some pretty atrocious scripts (Avatar).

My point, is that it's time to whittle down the true achievements in film making vs. the Oscar bait, and while there could be many arguments made for a lot of the films this year, Life of Pi feels the most like "Oscar bait."  Some could argue this about Lincoln, Argo (although less so), and Silver Linings Playbook, but my pick for this year would be Life of Pi, namely because it gives me that feeling when I see the preview.

Last year's big "Oscar bait" films were War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I did not see either film in the theatres.  I rented War Horse on red box, and waited Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to make it to HBO.  While these films are not awful (although Extreme Loud is close) there is something disingenuous about their spirit.

When I sat down to watch War Horse in my apartment, from start to finish the plot felt contrived and forced on the screen.  I saw the play, and fell in love with genuine emotional context of how this horse connected the different people, the story was great and well done in play format.  While Steven Spielberg has made some great films in the 2000s like Munich, Minority Report, and Catch me if you, and this year's Lincoln, this felt like he was film made me feel like they people behind it were just jonesing to get Oscar nominations, and make more money for the play.  I wanted better, but the film did not live up to the play, but still found its way to the best Picture race, because of the fact that the film felt important.

Some of the same things could be said for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Throughout the past Oscar voters have become obsessed with nominating films centered around the Holocaust.  The Reader, a subpar film, and another example of "Oscar bait" bumped off The Dark Knight from a nomination, because of the subject matter.  The Holocaust represents this dark/interesting moment in history that pulls people in, and helps voters connect.  The event is important, and often times is used to help win Oscars.  When Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes for the first time he joked with Kate Winslet stating I told you if you did a Holocaust film you would win/get nominated (I am paraphrasing).  The sad part is he was correct.

As we get further ahead in time look for films centered around 9/11 to have the same impact on Oscar voters.  9/11 was an important moment in American history, changing the landscape of the United States and the way we view safety.  Extremely Loud and incredibly Close fits within this model, and while the film has some beautiful moments, and is one of the saddest films, there is no cohesion to make this enough of a solid film.  This film bumped out quality films like Drive, and Take Shelter, because the subject matter seemed important, and the bait was cast.

As I posted this a friend had reminded me of The English Patient, back in 1996, which had been released from Miramax, which was owned at that time by the Weinstein Brothers.  The English Patient was meant to feel important, much like The Reader.  Seinfeld, made fun of Patient, with Elaine struggling to sit through the film, while people around went on an on about how great the film was, and namely because people were told it felt important.

The other interesting part about both of these films was the people behind their rise to success were the Weinstein's.  These two men (Harvey and Bob) have behind numerous wins, and nominations that may not have happened with other film companies.  These two men work their magic, and get things to happen, quality be damned!  They are not the only men with power, but they seem to do Oscar campaigning the best, look at Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan, or Meryl Streep beating Viola Davis last year.  I admire, and fear the power of these two brothers.  With power comes great responsibility toward the future of film.

Oscar bait can defined in so many different terms, and while this is only one snap shot, there is cause to think about what are the best films, and why are they the best.  How do you define the best?  Am I just being picky?  The answers to both these questions could be, ambiguous.  I want to see Hollywood evolve and not play it safe, to take the risk, and challenge people to see the better films.  The bottom line is that things go back to money, and in the end the best films often do not got seen by the masses.  Here's to hoping that the best films win out this year, and that Oscar bait is kept to a minimum.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Home for Thanksgiving in your Twenties: Phillip Phillips Edition

One of the songs of the moment comes from recent American Idol alum Phillip Phillips (cool name) entitled "Home."  This is one of the few songs from American Idol that has become a massive hit lasting longer than a week on the billboard charts.  The song has been used in television trailers like Extreme Makeover, the holiday special, and the trailer for the film Silver Linings Playbook.  Songs like this one may be a bit hooky, but at this point in my life it has put things into perspective more than anything.

As I am typing this entry I am listening to this song, and there are two thoughts that come into my my mind, the first has to do with the way people change as they grow, and move away from home, and what their "home" means when they go back.  Going back this year for the first time in months for me has been an emotional journey on many levels.

As I sat in my living room tonight I heard my twenty year old sister talk about her serious boyfriend, and thought for the first time, wow we are no longer children.  This place where we grew up, or partly grew up in my case, and spent many holidays is a different "home."  Throughout the years I my relationship with my family has evolved, and at the moment we may drive each other crazy at times, but there is this undying love for one another as as the lyrics state I "know I am not alone."

The second realization I had is that home takes many forms, and home is something we as people define personally.  Throughout the years I have made many different homes, one on 23 Crestwood Ct. in Albany, one at CW Post for college, one in Ohio for my Master's Degree, and now in Boston.  The people who have been in all of these places have helped me to make my home, and as I am not typically a sappy person this is the most you are going to get from me.  Thanks to the people who have made me feel at home.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Romantic Comedies, and the 2000s, and the Queen is Streep!

Today while at home I watched one of my favorite romantic comedies, You've Got Mail.  The film reminded me about the charm and grace Meg Ryan had within these movies; she was truly a star, and could make you fall in love with her different characters over and over again.  Like with every actress the days of their time within romantic comedies end, and they have to pass the crown on to someone else.  Prior to the 2000s (the late eighties and nineties) three women's names dominated the world of romantic comedies, Bullock, Roberts, and Ryan.  As the 2000s began new leading ladies tried to add themselves to this elite list, and while many tried few came close to the glory.

Reese Witherspoon holds the title as being one of the most successful women of the decade.  Reese started the decade strong with the hit Legally Blonde (2001); she followed up this film one year later with another big hit Sweet Home Alabama (2002) where she had to choose between Patrick Dempsey and Josh Lucas (talk about a Sophie's Choice).  After her Oscar win in 2005 Witherspoon stepped away from these roles trying to prove her dramatic chops even further, but her career has not been as strong; she has not been in many successful films.

A few other woman have vied for this crown throughout this decade:

Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers, Life as we Know it, New Year's Ever, and One for the Money).  Heigl's first two films on the list were hits, but she has been known to be a bit of a diva, and the rest of these romantic comedies fell flat for her career.

Kate Hudson started her ascension to this title in 2003 with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and the film was major hit, which had her move toward more films like this and less like Almost Famous, unfortunately.  After this Hudson starred in a series of attrocious romantic comedies including: Alex & Emma, Raising Helen, You Me & Dupree, Fool's Gold, My Best Friend's Girl, Bride Wars, and Something Borrowed.  Kate tried to capture lightening in a bottle, but the bottle cracked.

Drew Barrymore tried this during the 2000s as well, after a few successes in the 90s with The Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed, she had a real shot with her charm, but not much ever took.  Barrymore tried with Duplex, 50 First Dates, Fever Pitch, and Music and Lyrics.  The truth is the girl has talent, see Grey Gardens, but she is not the romantic comedy gal anymore.

These are just four ladies who tried to be the next Meg Ryan/Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock.  Three of the most successful Queens of the world of romantic comedies.  These three woman picked the right movies (most of the time) and were able to make the chemistry work. While the four women above tried to dethrone them, the only real woman who could be added to this list for the 2000s is the Queen of Film, Ms. Meryl Streep.

Meryl has proven two things, age does not matter, and she can really take on any role Throughout the 2000s and 2010s she has starred in some of the best romantic comedies of the decade: Mamma Mia!, The Devil Wears Prada (although more about Hathaway), Julie & Julia, It's Complicated, and Hope Springs.  The difference between Meryl and the women listed above is that she knows how to pick a movie, and her performance can always turn a bad movie into a good; she has the advantage.

Romantic comedies have become too formulaic, and Streep has changed things up for the decade because as an older woman she is reviving the genre, and proving you are never too old for love!

Silver Linings Playbook is a Darker Love Story, Headlined by Strong Performances

Silver Linings Playbook (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by  David O'Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees)
Starring:Bradley Cooper, Jennfier Lawrence, Jacki Weaver, and Robert DeNiro

Silver Linings Playbook Movie
David O. Russell's last film The Fighter was a true testament to his versatility.  The film was a little more of a by the book story that lacked the dark sense of humor present in his other films, Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees.  Silver Linings Playbook has blended together these two different styles.  Based on the novel with the same name by Matthew Quick, O'Russell creates a story that is both sad and touching.

The film starts with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) being picked up by his mother Dolores Solitano (Jacki Weaver) from a state institution after he spent 8 months there on a plea bargain.  Pat goes back home to live with his mother and father Pat Solitano Sr. (Rober DeNiro) in Philadelphia.  As soon as Pat gets back to Philadelphia he begs his mother to take him to the library so he can pick up the books from Nikki's syllabus.  Nikki was Pat's wife, and during their marriage Nikki was found cheating on Pat with a fellow teacher.  Pat snapped and beat the guy up pretty bad, and after his time in the treatment facility he has to deal with his own undiagnosed bi-polar disorder.  

Pat feels triggers through songs, books, and interactions with his friends and their families.  As Pat tries to fight his way to re-connecting with Nikki, he ends up meeting Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).  Tiffany is a young widow whose husband was killed, and through her grief she has started to like Pat openly speak her mind, but also use her body and sex to cope with her own depression.  Together these two start to form an unconventional bond that may just bring out the best in them both.

The films fleshes out the characters well, and has helped to focus O'Russell's development within his career as a writer/director.  O'Russell's screenplay is spot on in the way he adapts Quick's work; he boils down the story to get at the true emotion.  While I was never a huge fan of the The Fighter, O'Russell conveyed the same skills within his screenplay for that film.  O'Russell channelled an honest representation of the way in which people cope with their own grief/mental instability, while infusing some genuine humor.  

As you watch both of the leads of screen you realize you are watching fully formed performances that evolve throughout the film.  Bradley Cooper was the given the role of his career (so far) with Pat Solitano, and he did not disappoint.  Cooper has often played that dick best friend, or just that dick in films like The Hangover, or Wedding Crashers.  While his character is not well mannered in social mores, Cooper brilliantly tackles the struggle of Pat and the way he has to fight to stay above water in order to find happiness.

Most of the happiness is due to Tiffany played impeccably by Jennfer Lawrence.  Lawrence has wowed in numerous roles like The Hunger Games, and even scored Lead Actress nomination for her work in Winter's Bone, but this is a one of a kind performance.  Lawrence is sexy, raw, and her emotional journey happens as she finds solace in Cooper's character.  Lawrence is one of the best younger actresses working today, and she nails all the intricate levels of this role.

Along with two great lead performances, O'Russell seems to use his supporting cast well, even if they are not the big named stars.  DeNiro is funny and heart wrenching as Pat Sr..  Throughout the film you get to see the similarities between both Cooper and DeNiro's characters.  DeNiro's obsession with superstition, the Eagles, while maintaining a love for his wife.  DeNiro has not had a strong performance like this in many years, but as you get to watch his evolution his blind compassionate love for his son you get a a great glimpse into who Pat Sr.  DeNiro is the shining light of the supporting cast, but people like Weaver, and Chris tucker who plays Pat's friend from the state institution help add heart to this film.

Silver Linings Playbook does not reinvent the wheel, but the script along with the acting give way to one of the most honest films about the psychology of moving forward in spite of mental illness.  There is a raw honest in the script, and in many of the performances.  While there is a darker tone the end message is that when all has gone wrong or you think you have hit rock bottom you have to look for "silver lining."