Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - All in the Family Edition: Twins

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You should join us. We don't bite! Just pick three films that fit the week's theme and tell us about them. It really couldn't be easier... well, maybe not this week...

For this month's All In The Family edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the Wanderer has asked us to come up with three movies focusing on twins. Twins.

Twins?

Couldn't this have been around April Fool's Day so I could just choose three Olsen twin films and call it a day? Because this one is REALLY difficult. But never fear! For when I have a task in front of me, I simply must complete it. And complete this week's task I did!

The Parent Trap (Nancy Meyers, 1998) Oh, Lindsay. Where did it all go wrong? You started off so promisingly here, believably adopting a British accent and speaking in French and acting so winningly and natural that it was easy to imagine the star you would one day become. But unfortunately you succumbed to every single one of the "child star gone bad" clichés. Please just talk with Drew Barrymore and figure out how to get out of this funk and get your mojo back! Because sure Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid are lovely as your parents in this, but it's really your tiny little shoulders on which the film rests, and despite the film being too long you carry it as ably as Hayley Mills did the original. And that's no mean feat!

3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977) Okay, so this film isn't really ABOUT the twins, but they are very important supporting characters. "We don't like the twins," says Shelley Duvall's immortal Millie (née Mildred) Lammoreaux. And then Sissy Spacek's Pinky (née Mildred) Rose wonders what it must be like to be a twin, and even tries it on for size for a bit, walking in perfect step with them (in my Best Shot for the film). And then later, after hitting her head, Pinky starts to take on Millie's identity, and things get kind of weird. Three Women is an utterly unique film, one of the best of the 70s.

Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002) Say what you will about Nicolas Cage, but the man is an Oscar winner for a reason, and he is damn inspired here as actual real-life writer Charlie Kaufman, tasked with adapting Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep)'s book The Orchid Thief into a film, and his fictional brother Donald, whom Charlie calls for help when he realizes the book simply can't be turned into any kind of conventional film. And if that sounds too crazy-meta for you, consider this: the film's screenplay is credited to Charlie and David Kaufman, mirroring the film, and both the HFPA and AMPAS nominated both Charlie and Donald Kaufman for "their" screenplay for this film, despite the fact that Donald Kaufman is a fictional character. This may be the most kookily inspired both Cage and Kaufman have ever been. And Meryl Streep, for that matter.

BONUS PICK:
Original Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983) Luke and Leia are twins. LUKE AND LEIA ARE TWINS. This is the greatest twincest that never was. And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Blind Spot #5: The Third Man


Yes, I know, I have slacked terribly on this project. I've just been busier than I thought I would be and found myself wanting to do other things with my free time than watching movies (WHAT?!?!? BLASPHEMY!!!!). But then I saw that Carol Reed's The Third Man was playing at Film Forum, and I pretty much had to go. And I'm so glad I did, since the film was completely surprising in that it was not what I expected at all.

I've always heard The Third Man talked about as one of the greatest noir films. It may be, but it's a far far funnier film than I ever associated with the genre, which is defined by pitch-black films like Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice. The Third Man, while it has the necessary canted angles and deep shadows, simply doesn't FEEL like a noir. It's not even black comedy. Instead,  it's practically satire.
The downright jaunty zither score that opens the film is the first clue that this isn't going to be a dark twisty thriller. The second is Joseph Cotten, who isn't just playing a bumbling American in Austria - he's playing THE bumbling American (and it's a terrific performance as that). Sticking his nose in not just where it doesn't belong, but where it is neither needed nor wanted, Holly Martins is an author of cheap paperbacks with titles like The Lone Rider of Santa Fe, and he plays that Western bully personality to the hilt, asking questions and butting in on international affairs because his best friend, Harry Lime, just couldn't POSSIBLY be the horrid racketeer this British officer says he is. Never mind that Lime died just before Martins arrived in Austria on his friend's invitation, Martins is going to prove everyone wrong.
Of course, if the canted angles were our first clue that something is rotten in the state of Austria, the second would be the name of Orson Welles in the credits. I don't know that the film necessarily plays differently knowing that Welles is playing Harry Lime, but I suspect that people would be on the lookout for him even if they didn't know, and with the amount of time spent talking about Lime, it's probably pretty clear that the man is nowhere near dead. Welles has said that all he had to do to play the part was to just show up, since the script does such a great job of building up Lime as a character, but I would disagree. The part cries out for someone like Welles; someone with a larger-than-life presence and a rather arch way of delivering a line. I mean, look at that face up above. That's when Lime makes his first appearance in the film, letting Martins know he's quite alive thank you very much, but not saying a single word. Very few actors could pull off a shot like that, and Welles is at the very top of that list.

But, as the reviews have said, the real star of the show is that climactic chase through the sewers, which boasts some of the greatest noir cinematography ever. It's not surprising that the film is labeled as noir when it includes shots like the one of Welles above, or like this one:
I mean, that is fucking GORGEOUS. And it's taking place in a sewer (well, not really. Apparently Welles refused to shoot any scenes in a sewer, so he shot his stuff on soundstages. But still...). Never has a drainage repository ever looked so beautiful.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Third Man. It is a film full of unexpected pleasures, from Trevor Howard's perfectly dry British colonel, to the hilariously sharp script by Graham Greene, to the great performances by Cotten and Welles, to that justly famed cinematography. It's rare that a film with such a reputation as this one has can actually surprise you, but that's exactly what this great film did.

...although it did take me a whole week to get that damn zither score out of my head!

The Third Man
Year: 1949
Directed by: Carol Reed
Screenplay by: Graham Greene
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, (Alida) Valli
Oscar: 1 WIN - Best Cinematography (Black & White). Nominations for Director (Reed lost to Joseph L. Mankiewicz for All About Eve) and Editing (lost to King Solomon's Mines)
Rating: ****

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Sequels

Written for the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. If you don't already know how to play along, just pick three movies that fit the week's theme and tell us about them. It's so easy!

Sequels, huh? It's tough to make a good sequel. It tougher to make a sequel that's a good film in it's own right. It's EVEN TOUGHER to make a sequel that's a BETTER film than the original. But here are three that did so.

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004) Not just older and wiser than Before Sunrise, but more elegant. The themes are richer, the dialogue deeper, and the performances more layered. The sequel no one knew they wanted turned out to be one you wouldn't want to live without. And this scene. THIS SCENE. And the ending. That PERFECT fucking ending.


X2: X-Men United (Bryan Singer, 2002) X-Men was fine, but nothing more. X2 pulls the neat trick of expanding the cast of characters (which alone would have made it exciting, especially to X-Fans like me) and tightening up the script at the same time. It's a marvel of comic book/action cinema, and far more resonant - and clever - about its themes than any other X-Film before or since. Also: perfectly cast.


A Shot in the Dark (Blake Edwards, 1964) Only one of the funniest films ever made, and even more amazingly, it's based on a play completely unrelated to The Pink Panther and Peter Sellers's immortal Inspector Clouseau. Sellers is at the absolute top of his game here, and Edwards stages everything to perfection.

BONUS PICK: The Most Underrated Sequel Ever
The Matrix Reloaded (The Wachowskis, 2003) Yes it's not perfect, it's not great, but it's far, FAR better than most people give it credit for, easily one of the best action films of the new millennium. The fight scenes are inventive, and the car chase is one of the greatest ever filmed. Reloaded's biggest sin is focusing on these things at the expense of some fascinating new characters (the twins, Persephone), and a tendency for evil villain monologuing. But those monologues are much more interesting than your average, and delivered by actors who know what they're doing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - VMA Nominees

Look, I don't make the rules.

For HMWYBS nor for MTV's VMA Awards. The VMAs have always been somewhat arbitrary (consider: neither Michael NOR Janet Jackson has EVER won Video of the Year, and Madonna has only won ONCE), but it used to be that actual merit, as opposed to popularity, actually did play a role in nominations and wins (or maybe we just had better taste in the 80s and 90s?). Nowadays, though, they are primarily about spreading the wealth; nominating and awarding as many (popular) people as possible. I don't really understand this, since MTV barely even plays music videos anymore (if at all), so what do they care if a starlet gets pissed off?

Anyway...

This year's VMA nominees for Best Cinematography, which Nathaniel has asked us to give the HMWYBS treatment to this week, are neither particularly strong nor particularly weak. I'm hard pressed to choose which one I would award (although there's one that I know I wouldn't), but not because they're all of top quality. It's more that most of them strike me as being more... competently lensed, as opposed to strikingly or evocatively so. They're all well-shot, but none are really inspiring. Which is more frustrating the more I think about it: Music videos are supposed to be visual representations of a song. So why aren't more of these more visually exciting or compelling? And why on Earth was the one that is MOST compelling not even nominated for Video of the Year?

But I digress.

Anyway, my favorite shots were mostly pretty easy to pick out.

"Bad Blood" (Taylor Swift, Joseph Kahn, dir.)
Makes me giggle. I kind of find this video stupid. I mean, good on Taylor for making with the grrrrl power like it's the 90s, and recruiting a million stars to do her bidding, but giving each of them roughly five seconds of screentime? Why even bother?  I suppose the clip is supposed to make a statement about how women are encouraged by the industry to be at each other's throats, but then shuns them when they do? Or something? It's typically slick for director Joseph Kahn, but tough to differentiate in look from any number of his other videos (particularly Britney Spears's similarly future-esque "Hold It Against Me"). Anyway, I love how this moment perfectly says "I am SO NOT a little girl anymore," with the perfect combination of humor and menace. (I should note that I actually kind of LOVE Taylor Swift and her music, but the girl does NOT put out good music videos, other than "Shake It Off")

"Never Catch Me" (Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar, Hiro Murai, dir.)
I think I like this one and how it relates to the song a lot, but I'm not really a rap fan and haven't REALLY listened to the song enough to know. But what I love most about the video (other than those two FABULOUS dancin' kids) is how it tips its hand as to what is going on. In this shot, you can see dead dancing kid in the background, out of focus, and a parishioner at the funeral looking into the distance, clearly not seeing the performance. Before this, especially with the gospel choir clapping hands, it's hard to tell if the kids are actually being revived or if they're ghosts or what. This is exactly the kind of subtle shot that more music videos (hell, even more films) could use.

"Left Hand Free" (alt-J, Ryan Staake, dir.)
I kind of can't stand this song, and the clip did absolutely nothing to make me change my mind, much less make a case for itself getting a nomination for cinematography. But I like pictures of people taking pictures of things, and I love how the two girls in this shot could have absolutely any type of relationship you want to read into it - friends, sisters, lovers... could be anything.

"Thinking Out Loud" (Ed Sheeran, Emil Nava, dir.)
Look, Ed Sheeran is an annoying little ginger hobbit, but he can occasionally write a good song, and he clearly worked his ass off to get this NappyTabs choreography looking good. The clip is lit really, REALLY well, but I could write a whole separate entry about how annoyingly cliché this choreography is in the post-So You Think You Can Dance world (PS - I haven't been watching this season because I've had better things to do with my evenings. Should I be? I almost feel bad). I mean, I rolled my eyes a few times, it's that annoying. But this was the only nominee for which I had multiple choices of Best Shot, despite having some of the worst editing in a dance-heavy clip I've seen in quite some time. What I like about this one is how the lighting goes from light to dark to light again just based on the dacners' movement and the camera position, to paint a picture of love that's more complex than the simple, sweet lyrics present.

"Two Weeks" (FKA twigs, Nabil Elderkin, dir.)
As far as one-take wonders go, this is one of the most striking ones in a long while, with Twigs (a former backup dancer) giving us some Aaliyah, Queen of the Damned realness, along with about fifteen other little Twigs around her, dancing, pouring water into a pool, or... whatever it is those ones in white are doing. It's an oblique interpretation of the lyrics to basically turn her into a goddess  warning you not to go around worshiping any others but her, but it's a pretty fucking fierce one, and to do it all in one take with multiple iterations of her in different positions is hella ballsy. BUT, it's one of those videos that has a great concept and absolutely NOTHING ELSE. Doing it in one take matches the song's mysterious, hypnotic pull, but that's the cinematography. That's it. Repeat multiple times with Twigs in a different place, and you've got yourself one of the most striking videos in ages. As an introduction to an artist who can be difficult to say the least, it's fabulous, presenting exactly who she is in a package that's (relatively) easy to digest and beautiful to look at - it pulls you in and you want to know more, listen more, watch more. But in the end, cool as it is, there's not much THERE there. I can't pick a single moment that's my favorite, but the standard YouTube preview image presents a pretty great picture. If you can only watch one of these videos, this is the one I would recommend, since it's easily the most unique (both aurally and visually).

BONUS: "Two Weeks", with its heavy, impactful use of the notorious f-word, and weird, icy-hypnotic pulse, seems like a song that would be impossible to pull off in a late night talk show performance. But DAMN if Twigs didn't pull out one of the greatest televised performances I've ever seen with this one for Jimmy Fallon. It's stunning, and if possible, it's even more hypnotic to watch than the music video.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

Written for the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I LOVE science fiction, so this week was full of fun films to pick, even with the restriction of no space or aliens. These are all different interpretations of science fiction. (It's been a busy week and day, so that's as much of an intro as you're going to get.)

Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) Okay, so this may be cheating a little, because the sci-fi is really only at the edges, but Melancholia is such a GORGEOUS film, and it uses its science fiction conceit (a planet, the titular Melancholia, is on a collision course with Earth) to explore depression in a way no film has done before or since. Featuring a career-best performance from Kirsten Dunst that justly won the Best Actress prize at Cannes, and another fantastic performance from von Trier muse Charlotte Gainsbourg. The best opening and closing scenes of any movie in recent memory. And the repeated use of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, which features a minor chord repeated throughout that doesn't resolve until the very last note of the opera, is flat-out BRILLIANT. Bonus points for Udo Kier's hilarious minor role.

Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002) For my money, Spielberg's greatest achievement of the 00s, Minority Report features some very cool, prescient special effects, great performances from Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton, and some of the coolest production design you'll see in a sci-fi film set in the not-too-distant future. The story is about a world in which crimes can be predicted by a set of three sibling "pre-cogs" who can see the future, and the policeman who hunts down the people who haven't yet committed the crime for which he's arresting them... until the pre-cogs announce he will kill someone. Of course it was written by Phillip K. Dick, and it's probably the best adaptation of one of the great author's works.

The Nutty Professor (Tom Shadyac, 1996) YES, THIS COUNTS. Eddie Murphy is a sweet, overweight scientist who concocts a weight loss formula which brings out his inner "Buddy Love" in this remake of the 60s Jerry Lewis picture (which I would have picked except I can't STAND Lewis in dork mode). Basically a comic spin on Jekyll & Hyde, The Nutty Professor is science fiction at its funniest. My family rented this one and were laughing so hard at the dinner scenes that we had to rewind and rewatch them. Murphy deserved an Oscar nomination for this, playing not only the titular Sherman Klump, but Klump's mother, father, brother, and grandmother, too, creating a whole family of comic genius. (Unfortunately, he was such a hit in all these roles that a sequel was made with more of them.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Sunset Boulevard

A lot has been said about Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. Which is as it should be, because there's a lot to say about it. But for me, having a lot to say often means that when it comes to writing something, I find myself at a loss for words.

Maybe that was why Joe Gillis had writer's block. He had too much to say. So much so, that he had to narrate his own story from beyond the grave.


I was tempted to say that the famous opening scene shot of William Holden floating on the pool's surface is the film's Best Shot, because I see no reason to include the prologue (and, frankly, Joe's narration) in the film at all other than the fact that it presents practically the whole story of the film in one image. Because the fact is, Sunset Boulevard is perfect, but the story and performances are so engrossing that we really don't need the whole thing to be a flashback. Except that it's too good. The film's story proper opens with Joe evading officials, and from that moment it's clear he's pretty low, but not quite at rock bottom yet. The whole film, he's looking down and slowly sinking into that pool, and he doesn't even know it... except that he does, because he's narrating his own story from beyond the grave.

Narrative semantics aside, I found myself most surprised this go-round on Sunset Boulevard that it's largely about the dangers of hero worship. That makes it incredibly timely given our increasingly obsessed celebrity culture... or maybe that culture hasn't really changed at all, only that it takes less and less to actually be a celebrity. But there's a reason why the film ends with Norma not just creepily walking towards the camera, like a vampiress (seriously, Gloria Swanson is giving some serious Bela Lugosi realness in that final shot) coming for her prey, but with her delivering the last third of her closing monologue straight into the camera, directly to the audience.


She's doing it all for us, you see. It's all our fault. You want to know why Sunset Boulevard didn't win Best Picture and Best Actress in 1950? That right there. It directly implicates the audience in Norma Desmond's downfall. Without a public, those "wonderful people out there in the dark," she wouldn't want to make a comeback return. Without us, she wouldn't even exist, in every possible way. The way she looks right at the audience even calls back to this fantastic earlier shot:

BEST SHOT RUNNER-UP

As Norma adjusts herself in the mirror, her reflection is looking straight at the audience. It's almost as if she can see us - that she doesn't spy herself in the mirror so much as the people watching the film, and realizes that she still has the pieces of her beauty regiment on (and actually, earlier in the film she runs right by the mirror without even noticing it). She cannot present herself to her public (or Joe) like this! She she takes them off, adjusts herself, and continues on with the scene.

But enough about all that, because according to Nathaniel we aren't allowed to pick the last shot as the film's Best Shot. And I toyed with making that mirror shot the best, but it will have to settle for runner-up status this time around.

Each time we watch a movie it becomes a little different; different circumstances in our lives cause our sympathies to bounce around between characters, another plotline or detail of set design attracts our attention, etc. This time I had to pause the film during the New Year's Eve party Norma throws for herself and Joe, so when I came back and started the film up again, I was paying closer attention than on previous viewings. And as Joe storms out of the house, this happens.

BEST SHOT

A little insignificant detail, but Joe's watch chain getting caught in the door, I realized, is a perfectly sly way of setting up the end of the film. He's already too attached to Norma and her gifts. He's tangled up in her life, and there's no getting out now. He won't even get out for long that night, as Norma's suicide attempt brings him running right back. It's reiterating what we know from the prologue - that poor Joe is a dead man - but it's a clever, surprising way of doing so. I don't know whether this happened by accident or not, but either way, it's what makes Billy Wilder one of the greats.

*                    *                    *

...AND now that that's done, I'm just going to leave this here, without commentary, just because.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Liebster Award


The wonderful and insightful Dell over at Dell on Movies has nominated me for a Liebster Award! As has the honorable Kevin of Speaks in Movie Lines! I'm honored, humbled, and honestly flattered.
Thanks so much, Dell and Kevin, and thanks to everyone who reads and comments on my blog. The conversation is a large part of why I started blogging, and it's still my favorite part.

ANYWAY, the Liebster Award (in case you didn't know, because I didn't...) is an award bestowed upon bloggers by their fellow bloggers. When you are nominated, there are a few simple rules to follow in order to accept your award:

1. Thank the blog who nominated you and link back to them.
2. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers to receive the coveted award.
3. Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
4. Tell your readers 11 random facts about yourself.
5. Give the nominees 11 questions to answer on their blog when they post their nomination.

These are the questions Dell asked of me, and my answers.

1. What movie is most responsible for making you a film buff? The film that truly made me a movie buff was Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood for Love. Saw it in a film course in college, fell in love, decided I HAD to own it on DVD, got introduced to The Criterion Collection, and I was a goner.

2. If there were a movie made about your life, who should play your significant other? Hmmmmmmmmmm... doing a quick search of IMDB for actors over 6' tall, I'd have to say Ray Stevenson (Porthos from the most recent Three Musketeers film), although my current significant other is a bit more of a goofy, gentle giant type. But the resemblance is striking.

3. Name an event you've been a part of that they should make a movie about. A few years back I went to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) aboard the Huffington Post buses. That would make for a pretty interesting movie. I've never seen DC so mobbed; from the minute we got into the subway we could barely move!

4. Name an event you wish they would stop making movies about. That moment when a woman gets pregnant accidentally, doesn't want a baby at this point in her life, but decides to keep it despite the fact that there are plenty of other options available to her.

5. What villain do you think would make a great hero? Why?  To quote one of my favorite plays: I'm not a fan of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice. So I'll pick one that has already been redeemed by history a bit: Shylock. The man is basically attacked for adhering to the terms of a contract and persecuted for being a Jew. He stands up for what he believes in and against an irresponsible kid, and gets a terrible punishment for it. He should be a hero.

6. What hero do you think would make a great villain? Why?  
Sherlock Holmes. Super-smart guy who works with Scotland Yard, but also outside their jurisdiction. WHAT IF he was actually working against the police the whole time? His motives are largely unknown, PLUS he's a drug addict.

7. Name a movie you love from a genre you hate. Oooooooooh this is a good one... I don't like westerns much, but I LOVED the Coen brothers' True Grit.

8. Name a movie that's so bad it's awesome. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm... gonna have to be obvious and go with Showgirls. Or Conan the Barbarian. The original Schwarzenegger one.

9. What is your favorite color? Orange and/or green, depending on the day.

10. Do you prefer dogs or cats? Cats. Dogs are too eager for your love and attention, whereas you have to earn a cat's trust first. Plus dogs slobber. EW. But I'm allergic to both, so can I say fish instead?

11. How and why did you become a blogger? LONG story, but the short version is that I wanted to participate in The Film Experience's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, and I needed a place to do so.

...and because I'm a masochist, here are the questions Kevin asked of me, and my answers:

1. What movie is responsible for making you a film buff? Asked and answered! See above.

2. What's your earliest movie memory? Seeing Disney's The Little Mermaid in theaters.

3. What was your most cherished title you owned on home video as a kid? Hmmmmmm... I mean, pick any Disney animated classic LOL. Probably Beauty & the Beast, because it's my favorite.

4. What is your current favorite Blu-ray or DVD that you own? Oh jeez.... the Criterion Collection Jacques Tati box set that I just got sure is pretty!

5. Who is your all-time favorite movie character? Indiana Jones. When I was younger I wanted to be an archeologist. I have no doubt that Harrison Ford was at least part of the reason why.

6. What is your favorite TV drama? Currently: The Americans. Or Game of Thrones. Or Masters of Sex. Or Orange is the New Black. All-Time: The X-Files.

7. What is your favorite TV comedy? Currently: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Or Jane the Virgin. All-Time: Will & Grace. Or Friends. Or Absolutely Fabulous. Or Fawlty Towers. Yeah, the last one.

8. What is the last movie you watched? Oh dear lord... Minions. It was cute.

9. Favorite food? Literally anything barbecued.

10. Any pets? Not currently. When I was a kid there was a guinea pig and then a cockatiel.

11. How and why did you become a blogger?
Asked and answered! See above.

AND NOW! For 11 facts about myself.

1. I started dancing when I was 10 years old, after seeing Singin' in the Rain.
2. At my very first dance competition (at age 12) I won a Gold medal. A monster was born.
3. My biggest achievement in six years as a competitive dancer was placing third overall at a national competition in Walt Disney World.
4. I was the Editor-in-Chief of my high school yearbook.
5. I read the second Harry Potter book (Chamber of Secrets) before I read the first one. I didn't know it was a series at the time.
6. My Top Three favorite books are: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Ready Player One.
7. My favorite book series is the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.
8. In addition to dance, I'm also a trained mime.
9. I can read Hebrew.
10. I'm semi-fluent in French (enough to understand spoken/written, but not quite enough to carry on a full conversation without lots of stops and starts).
11. Animal has always been, and always will be, my favorite Muppet.


I would like to nominate....

Jenna and Allie, The Flick Chicks
All of the Assholes Watching Movies
Big Screen, Small Words
Irene, the Mysterious Bibliophile
The amazing John at Hitchcock's World

...and I WOULD nominate the ever-inspiring Drew (Fisti) at Fistful of Films and the awe-inspiring Tim Brayton at Antagony and Ecstasy, but I think they possibly might be too popular to actually meet the criteria for this award. Also, shout-out to everyone's favorite commenter extraordinaire, joel65913, who does not have his own blog but should.

I don't have much time to spend reading other blogs, but when I do, these guys are reliably well-written and fun to read. If you're not reading any of these blogs, you should be.

The questions for my nominees (some of which I stole because they're just too good) are:

1. What's the movie that made you love movies?
2. Do you get concessions when you go to the movies, and if so, what's your snack of choice?
3. What was your favorite subject in high school?
4. Who is your favorite Muppet?
5. What's your favorite movie trilogy (or series)?
6. What makes you feel better when you're feeling blue?
7. What movie did you most unexpectedly love?
8. What movie did you most unexpectedly hate?
9. What is your favorite place you've ever visited?
10. What's your Zodiac sign, and do you believe it fits you?
11. What made you start blogging?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Obligatory Halfway-Through-The-Year Post

I haven't gone to the movies as much as usual this year. When I lived in CT, I went an average of once a week, but I moved to NYC in September and, well, not only is living here more expensive, but movies are, too ($15 per ticket as opposed to $10). Add to that the HUGE increase in movies available to see in theaters, and my indecision combines with my thriftiness to create an immobility on the movie-going front. Sad, but true.

But anyway, these are the movies I've seen in theaters this year, and a capsule-length review, listed in order of preference.
INSIDE OUT - Not quite as magical as Pixar's best films, but the moment-to-moment creativity and voice work are so superb (and occasionally surprising) that it almost makes up for it. Quick throwaway gags work the best (the cat, facts/opinions, déjà vu). Pity about the TERRIBLE short.

SPY - Far and away the funniest movie of the year, and easily McCarthy's best starring vehicle. The supporting cast is KILLER, and more of the jokes land than in any of McCarthy and Paul Feig's other films.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - The action is flat-out insane and mostly awe-inspiring. Great performances from Theron and Hoult. Nonetheless, it feels like something is missing. The movie felt a (robotic) arm's-length away the entire time.

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL - The performers are so appealing in these roles that it doesn't matter that the plot isn't nearly as grabby as that of the first film. Maggie Smith's opening scene monologue on how to properly make tea is AMAZING. Pity about Dev Patel, though.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY - Probably the best film version of this property we were ever going to get, even if it's utterly mediocre in every conceivable way. Dakota Johnson brings it, though, in a sprightly, slyly funny performance as Ana. Works better as a coming-of-age romance than as an erotic drama. Pity about dullard Jamie Dornan.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON - The seams are starting to show on the Marvel formula, but this is still mostly enjoyable. Nice to get some extra time with Hawkeye, even if the new characters turn out to be pretty much duds. Indelible voice work from James Spader as Ultron.

THE BOY NEXT DOOR - Knowing camp trash of the highest order, but still camp trash.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE - Terrific fun for the first two-thirds, then the ending blows it all to shit, with an unbelievably reckless disregard for human life that isn't in on the joke in the way the rest of the film is.

...and to make it ten, two holdovers from last year that I was able to catch on Netflix (and are better than any of this year's films so far):

THE WAY HE LOOKS - Touching, funny, heartfelt... I can't recommend this one enough.

LILTING - Very solid, it decidedly low-key. Doesn't quite offer the catharsis I would have liked, but still excellent for what it is. Great lead performances from Whishaw and Pei-Pei.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Road Trip Movies

Written for the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us something about them. It's fun - I promise!

There's a bit of a theme with my picks this week. Allow me to explain: June was Gay Pride Month. And not only was this year my first Pride in NYC, it was my first time attending a Pride parade March EVER. I can't even tell you how incredible it was, ESPECIALLY since the tremendous Supreme Court decision on gay marriage came down the Friday of Pride weekend. I was so thankful I had that day off from work, because I would NOT have gotten ANY work done. Between reading news items, watching CNN, and checking/posting to Facebook, that was all I did that day.

Well, that and crying.

I haven't ever thought about getting married - I'm not sure that it's something I want - but the fact that now the highest court in the land has affirmed my right to do so ANYWHERE in these fifty United States of America, well, it's a pretty powerful feeling, and was a bit overwhelming at the time. That night I went to down to Greenwich Village, to the Stonewall Inn (site of the famous riots that started the Gay Pride movement, the subject of Roland Emmerich's upcoming film) and it was a mob scene. You could barely move anywhere, but you could feel the LOVE permeating the air, the joy of everyone's spirits. And then you looked up and saw Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colors... I am so glad I was in New York for this. There have been several moments since moving here in September that I've been happy I moved here, but none more so than that night. It was truly special, something magical.

All of which was a long way of saying: The gays have been on the brain. So, these Road Trip picks are LGBTQ-centric.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994) Surely the most fabulous road trip ever filmed. "Priscilla" is an old bus taking three Australian drag queens (Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce - yes, THAT Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce!) through the outback to a gig on the other side of the continent. Come for the (deservedly) Oscar-winning costumes (some of which cost all of $7 to make out of stuff from a K-Mart!), stay for the revelatory performances from the three leads, all of whom have become famous for far different kinds of roles.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (Beeban Kidron, 1995) This pseudo-remake of Priscilla written by the great Douglas Carter Beane isn't as subtle or quirky as its predecessor, but I still kinda love it. John Leguizamo, Patrick Swayze, and Wesley Snipes (of all people) turn in some of their best performances in this as two veteran queens and one newbie Q.I.T. (that's Queen In Training) driving across America for a beauty pageant. It's formulaic sure, but it's surprisingly funny, and all the performances (especially Chris Penn and Stockard Channing in supporting roles) are generous of heart and spirit. Think of the balls it took for these stars to take these roles when they did! I still almost can't believe it.

Transamerica (Duncan Tucker, 2005) Felicity Huffman was robbed of an Oscar for her stunning work as Bree, a male-to-female transsexual on the verge of completing her transition when she gets a phone call from a son she didn't know she had. The kid (Kevin Zeegers) is a hustler, of course, and before you know it he's talked his way into having Bree drive him cross-country, even though he may be onto - and may not like - the fact that Bree is transitioning. The film pulls no punches, but Huffman finds plenty of funny in places you'd never think of. Bonus points for the lovely Dolly Parton song "Travellin' Thru", also robbed of an Oscar.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Adaptations of Classic Literature

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You should join us by picking three movies that fit into the weekly theme and telling us about them!

When I was a kid, I LOVED classic literature. I mean, I loved books in general, but I particularly had a thing for the classics. But when it came time to make these picks, I actually had a little trouble - most of my favorite pieces of classic literature haven't been made into films! Or, they have been made into films, but those films are not any good. But I did indeed find three that I like. I hope you do, too.

 
The Secret Garden (Agnieszka Holland, 1993) I have always loved The Secret Garden, despite it's reputation as a book for girls. But it's more than earned its classic status, I think, because of how universal its story really is. Yes, it's about flowers and the protagonist is a young girl, but it's really about how awful it can be to be a child, and how playing outside (of all things) can have magical healing powers. When I was very young I couldn't play outside, because I was so allergic to pollen that before too long my eyes would start to itch and get all puffy and red and I would run inside, crying. I eventually saw an allergist and got shots that kept things under control, but I always loved the fantasy of this, and wished that I had an escape like the garden that this film so beautifully portrays. Like my next pick, there's such a warmth radiating from every frame of this film. It's purely enjoyable, even when its characters are insufferable.

Little Women (Gillian Armstrong, 1994) Deservedly garnering an Oscar nomination for Winona Ryder's Jo (she should have won), this may just be the definitive version of Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical novel. The love of the source material pours through in every frame, but this is still a pretty clear-eyed take on the story. My favorite thing about this film is how lived-in everything feels - not only does the March family (Susan Sarandon as "Marmee" to Winona, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, and Claire Danes) feel like a real warm, loving family, but their house feels like a real, albeit modest, house, and their clothes and things feel like they have been worn and loved for many years. Nearly everything about this is perfect.

Cruel Intentions (Roger Kumble, 1999) Okay, yes: Unlike my previous two picks, this one isn't anywhere close to perfect. HOWEVER, it is an incredibly stylish and VERY memorable update of Les liaisons dangereuses, and epistolary novels are maybe the most difficult kinds of novels to adapt to film. Anyway, this is mostly here for the bitchy delight that is Sarah Michelle Gellar's take on Merteuil, who manipulates Valmont (here her stepbrother) into sleeping with, falling in love with, and then tossing aside the lovely, virginal Annette, and the AMAZING opening scene with Swoosie Kurtz as Valmont's therapist.

BONUS PICK

Alice in Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1951)Lewis Carroll's fractured fairy tale has been adapted to film numerous times, but for my money no version got the tone right quite as much as the Disney animated version, which is funny, surreal, absurd, and slightly cruel while still being very much a sweet Disney film. Also, it clearly has the best Cheshire Cat of any other version.