Thursday, December 29, 2016

Awards Contenders In Brief - Fences

Sometimes, films are just performance pieces, and that's okay. Such is the case with Fences, Denzel Washington's adaptation of August Wilson's stage play. Plays do not always have to be "opened up" for the screen, especially when the material is strong and you have great actors tearing up the screen in every scene. This film version of Fences is dynamic and engaging thanks to the script (credited posthumously to the playwright himself) and the performances, especially those at the center.

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington create an entirely believable relationship that is thrillingly alive in every moment - there is never even one second where you don't want to be watching them. This is the best work Washington has done in ages, breathing fiery life into the character of Troy Maxson. And Davis is every bit his equal, taking everything we have seen of her in various roles on screens large and small and mixing them together into the most incredible performance by an actress this year (just don't let the campaign fool you - SHE IS A LEAD, and deserves recognition as such).

All told, this is easily the finest acting ensemble of the year, but thankfully Washington is no slouch in the director's chair, either. The direction here isn't flashy, but it's still smart and restrained, constantly emphasizing how the characters are either boxing themselves (and others) in or breaking out. And the few instances where the play has been "opened up" are well-chosen and beautifully shot. This is as ideal an adaptation of this play as one could hope for, containing a superb cast doing career-best work all around. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

Thursday Movie Picks - Coming Home

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come on and join in by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Well, here we are again, one last edition of Thursday Movie Picks before the end of the year!

And what a year it's been, huh?

My biggest thanks to Wanderer for hosting this, and for continuing to do so in 2017! This has been a great way for me to get in the habit of writing weekly, and I'm FINALLY starting to write for real here (Jesus that took forever lol)! And it really is all due to this little project right here. So thank you.

ANYWAY, on to the matter at hand. The theme this week is coming home, which can be a very emotional thing for people, especially after a long time away.

Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016) I'm pretty open about how I do NOT understand the INSANE critical praise for this, but it's still very, VERY good. Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, a sullen janitor in Quincy, MA, who has had A Traumatic Event (TM) in his past that pushed him away from his home town (the title, duh). Now, his brother has died, and he has to go home to make arrangements, including serving as guardian for his young nephew (the fantastic newcomer Lucas Hedges). As a film about grief, how if we leave it unchecked it can eat away at us slowly until it leaves us completely hollow, this may be unparalleled, and it's pretty funny to boot. Add in Michelle Williams's brief, devastating turn as Lee's ex-wife (their scene together at the end is one of the best scenes of this year, or indeed the past few years), and it should be a recipe for great success. But instead, for me, this one unfortunately ended up being less than the sum of its parts.

Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004) I don't care what anybody says, I love this movie. So much about it is unique, and it's very moving. It also contains one of Natalie Portman's greatest performances, as the free-spirited weirdo who gets Braff's too-heavily-medicated Andrew (back home for his mother's funeral) to finally feel something. And that soundtrack, even when calling attention to how great it is, is pretty damn great. I defy you to not get at least a LITTLE emotional when Frou Frou's "Let Go" comes up in that perfect last scene.

You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000) Sammy and Terry Prescott lost their parents in a horrific car accident years ago. Now, Sammy (Laura Linney) is still living in their hometown in upstate New York, and Terry (Mark Ruffalo) is a drifter, coming home because he needs money. These two people could not be more different, but familial bonds are strong, and they would do just about anything for each other. Linney and Ruffalo are beyond fantastic here, and Lonergan gifted them with one of the greatest scripts of the '00s, one that is beautifully attuned to sibling relationships in a way that few films are. I love this beautiful movie so much.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Awards Contenders In Brief: Jackie

Natalie Portman is a great actress, but even in her best roles she is often highly mannered, very tightly controlled. Which in many ways makes first lady Jacqueline Kennedy the part she was born to play. Thankfully, the film Pablo Larrain has built around her is a true marvel, rising to heights most biopics can only dream of.

I don't think I've seen a biopic that is so on the wavelength of its subject AND so in tune with the time in which it was made. This is a film that could only have been made right now, and indeed, it is in many ways a film that NEEDED to be made right now, ruminating as it does on just what (or, indeed, who) makes a President's legacy when so many just want to push right on past him into the future, and also commenting on what the press demand of our public figures and why, and where exactly public figures will draw the line in their use of the media.

It is a fascinating film on many levels, all swirling around Portman's downright astonishing central performance. She gets the overly manicured voice and stiff mannerisms of Jackie down pat, going through every mix of emotions under the sun as she feels, suppresses, and works through her grief. But Chilean director Pablo Larrain doesn't let her do ALL the heavy lifting. He knows how to frame her to emphasize the loneliness even among many people, the fragility among such strength, the woman under the public face. Noah Oppenheim's smartly written screenplay provides the foundation, and Larrain constructs a mausoleum of American politics around it, with the White House as ground zero. And then he brings in Mica Levi for the score, providing the perfect notes for the despair, determination, and rage of a woman in mourning.

It's all too much to talk about. It must be seen, must be experienced on a big screen to fully comprehend how brilliant it is. This is one of the finest films of 2016, no doubt about it, and it deserves to be remembered for much more than its great leading lady.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Parties

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the weekly party by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Are you a party animal? I'm not, generally speaking. I mostly prefer my own couch, a mug of hot tea, and Netflix, but this time of year there are so many parties around that I get out and about more than usual. And I will admit, I usually have a pretty good time. So it's fitting that this week on Thursday Movie Picks the topic is parties. I've picked three movies that center around three very different types of parties. Party on!

The Party (Blake Edwards, 1968) Maybe not the funniest collaboration between director Blake Edwards and star Peter Sellers, The Party is still manic fun. Largely improvised, Edwards just lets Sellers's Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi loose at a lavish, over-the-top Hollywood party and watches the insanity that ensues. Something is going on in every square inch of every frame, and watching people react to Sellers is a large part of the fun.

Can't Hardly Wait (Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, 1998) The ur-90s teen movie, with a cast of just about everyone who was anyone in that decade, taking place at the graduation party to end all graduation parties. Ethan Embry is in love with Jennifer Love Hewitt, recently back on the market after ending things with jock Peter Facinelli, only she doesn't know who he is. Seth Green is determined to have sex, but he's affected a white gangsta persona so off-putting it's made him a joke. And everyone else just wants to have a rager. I never went to a party anywhere to close to this in high school, and maybe that's why I like this movie so much.

Bachelorette (Leslye Headland, 2012) Three friends from high school get asked to be a fourth's bridesmaids for her upcoming wedding. The only problem is, the bride is no longer the party girl the other three still are... and they're also kinda mean girls. But they're played by Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan, so they're VERY fun to watch, even while ruining the titular party for the very sweet Rebel Wilson. The movie's mean streak goes a long way to making it more fun than your average female-led comedy, actually, and it's a much better movie than any of the similar Hangover movies.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Awards Contenders In Brief: La La Land

So you may have noticed that I don't really do reviews on this blog. Which may have struck you as somewhat strange, given that this is a movie blog and all.

The simple fact of the matter is, writing a full review, for me, takes a LOT of time. I endlessly obsess over wording and details and getting things perfect. And in the end, I'd much rather spend that time WATCHING movies, especially since there are so many I haven't seen.

But I DO post short review-like things on my Letterboxd page, so read some of my past ones there. Going forward, I'm going to try to post those here, under this new "In Brief" label, so that I don't feel bound to write a full-length review.

So of course for the first of these, I'm going to pick a movie that I actually COULD write a full-length review of.

La La Land is, quite simply, my favorite film of the year. But let's be clear: Y'all know my nom de internet. And you'll know just from watching any of the trailers for this movie that have been released over the past couple of months that this movie was basically created in a lab specifically for me. So my naming it my favorite film of the year should come as absolutely come as no surprise, and should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

I really say all of this because I desperately don't want to oversell La La Land. It's fantastic, but it's also slight, and if you don't like movie musicals, this very likely won't be the one to change your mind - especially if you're immune to the charms of Emma Stone and/or Ryan Gosling (although, I personally don't understand how anyone could be, but I have been made to understand that somehow such people do exist).

I also desperately don't want to spoil this movie for anyone. Nothing else I experience for the rest of the year (I know it's only a couple of weeks but just go with me) will come close to matching the experience of seeing La La Land for the first time, so I want everyone else to enjoy it just as much as I did - by knowing nothing ahead of time except what the trailers told me.

So, here it goes: Gosling is Sebastian, a jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own jazz club. Stone is Mia, an aspiring actress working in a coffee shop on a studio lot. They meet and eventually fall in love. That's all I'm telling you of the plot. But the plot doesn't really matter. As with all the greatest movie musicals, what matters is the style with which the story is told, and La La Land is full to bursting with some of the greatest style of any movie released in quite some time. It pays homage to nearly every musical the Hollywood studio system ever produced, and takes direct inspiration from the single greatest movie musical ever made, Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In so doing, it contains not one, not two, but three of the best single scenes of any film to be released in 2016, scenes of such bravura moviemaking magic that I actually applauded through tears in the theater.

Gosling and Stone have the chemistry of the greatest screen pairings - Hepburn & Tracy, Bogie & Bacall, Astaire & Rogers... to name a few - and that, along with their full-on charm offensive, is essential to making this movie work (it's almost impossible to imagine this working nearly as well with the original casting choices, Emma Watson and Miles Teller). It's a pleasure to watch them, because not only are they clearly enjoying themselves, not only do they make it look easy, but their faces are so open and honest that it's incredibly easy to feel for them. It's the kind of star power and chemistry that Old Hollywood used to cultivate with almost clockwork precision, but which has gone somewhat out of fashion nowadays. They also both have lovely, natural singing voices - they don't sound like professional singers, exactly, but the film is better off for it - and are wonderfully fluid dancers (bless Mandy Moore for her joyous choreography).

The score (music by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul) is tuneful and romantic, with six original songs that you will be humming for weeks, and some lovely instrumental numbers. The film is as much about movie musicals as it is about anything else, so the music is very important. If I say that the film starts with its two weakest numbers, just know that they're still damn good, and each is shot so distinctively that it more than makes up for whatever the songs themselves are lacking.

I just... I have nothing bad to say about this film. Every single element works in perfect harmony together to create a perfect old-school movie experience. Everything about it has the look of one of the great MGM technicolor movie musicals, but it feels and sounds thoroughly modern. It is the perfect movie musical for the modern age - a perfect meeting of nostalgia with a contemporary sensibility. It is as much about the thrilling, transporting power of movie musicals as it is a perfect example of one, and as a lover of musicals, I couldn't possibly ask for anything more.

One week later, I'm still not over it. When my screening on opening night was over, I wanted to go straight to the box office and buy a ticket for the next available showing. I also wanted to go Monday after work, and also every day after that, because I just can't think of a better way to spend a little over two hours. And that's the highest praise I can give it.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Video/Arcade/Board Game Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can participate, too! All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's themes and say a little something about them!

Is it really Thursday again, you guys?

Sorry, it's now been six days since seeing La La Land, and I'm still not over it. I don't know what time it is or what day it is anymore.

Which makes it even harder for this week's Thursday Movie Picks, because we are picking game movies. Whether this means movies based on a pre-existing game, or movies centered around a game, it is unclear, so I will cover as many bases as I can this week! Ready? Let's go!

Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985) One of the most delicious comic ensembles of all time gets to take on the iconic board game characters in a cleverly twisted murder mystery. Which is complicated by the fact that the film was released with the gimmick of having three different endings.... just like the game, right? No, not really. So, of course it was a flop in theaters that got resurrected on home video, mostly because of that downright brilliant cast. It's nearly impossible to pick an MVP between Lesley Ann Warren's vampy Miss Scarlett, Eileen Brennan's kooky Mrs. Peacock, and Madeline Kahn's deadpan Mrs. White (just to name the women), but I have to go with Tim Curry's all-out performance as an invented character, the butler Wadsworth, which finds a perfect balance between madcap physical comedy and dry British wit.

Jumanji (Joe Johnston, 1995) This one centers around an invented board game that has some serious juju issues. You see, once you start playing, you MUST finish, and the silly things that would normally move you back a square or lose a turn or whatever become all too real. When young Alan Parrish finds the game buried near a construction site and begins to play with his friend Sarah, after a turn or two, the mysterious crystal ball in the center of the board reads: "In the jungle you must wait, until the dice read five or eight," and thus gets sucked into the board game. Sarah, understandably, freaks out, and the game gets buried for twenty-five years... until young siblings Judy and Peter play the game and release Alan from his jungle prison. Which is a good thing, because they're going to need his know-how to survive as the game starts taking over their idyllic New Hampshire town. This is a fun family adventure from a time when such films were taken seriously as entertainment for the WHOLE family - it doesn't try to be hip or cool or snarky, just to provide everyone with a good thrill ride. Which it succeeds at wonderfully. The visual effects have held up pretty well, too.

Silent Hill (Christophe Gans, 2006) And lastly, one based on a video game. Rose is worried about her young daughter, Sharon, who has problems with sleepwalking. She decides to take her to the town of Silent Hill, WV, which Sharon keeps repeating the name of over and over. But upon reaching the town, they get into a car accident and Sharon disappears. Rose has to find her, and in so doing, unlock the mystery of what the town of Silent Hill is and why Sharon feels such a connection to it. Let me make one thing clear: This is NOT a good movie. Not by a longshot. Approximately nothing in it makes any sense, it's insanely overblown, and none of the performing styles ever really meld. BUT, it does boast an absolutely tremendous performance from the terminally underappreciated Radha Mitchell, as well as some of the most sublime surreal imagery I've ever seen in a mainstream movie. Plus, a deliciously campy scene-stealing turn from Alice Krige as the leader of the town cult. Silent Hill may be a failure, but it is at the very least an incredibly interesting one - one that I'm quite fascinated by. Just.... enter at your own risk.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Based on Toys

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a little something about them!

It's Christmas season, which means everyone will soon be packing our nation's malls and big box stores trying to get that one perfect present for their favorite someone. And we all know what that means. Fights over who gets the last Tickle-Me Elmo! Or whatever the hot toy is this year, I personally have absolutely no clue.

In the spirit of the season, this week's programming on Thursday Movie Picks is centered around movies based on toys. Not a particularly illustrious group, and the three I've picked this week couldn't be more obvious, but they also cannot be bettered. I dare anyone to try.

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) The movie that introduced the geniuses at Pixar to the world is still an utter delight to watch on just about every level, and it's based on a hook so simple it's hard to believe no one had ever thought of it before: the life of children's toys when their owners aren't around, and how they react to the hot new toy shoved into their midst. Equal parts funny and sweet, it's easy to see why this was such a big hit and an enduring favorite among Pixar's stellar output.

Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, 1999) The Empire Strikes Back of animated sequels, it's almost impossible to believe that this was originally going to go direct to video. Personally, I think this is one of the best films of Hollywood's most recent annus mirabilis, taking complex themes of abandonment and ownership of one's own identity and dealing with them - VERY seriously - through a story about children's toys, of all things. And it's just as funny and exciting as the first.

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) I don't think, 10-11 years after Toy Story 2, that anyone was particularly clamoring for a second Toy Story sequel, making this a trilogy or, God forbid, a series... but then it came out, and made just about everyone in the world cry ugly, ugly tears, including this guy right here. I would blame the 3D glasses, but I don't think that would account for the great big heaving SOBS I cried in a theater packed full of children and their parents. Whatever alchemy was going on behind the scenes at Pixar when they wrote the last act of this movie, I can only hope that it's still there, and will be for decades to come, because as far as I'm concerned, this is the studio's crowning achievement, a complex, well-thought-out film that stands on its own AND as the completion of a trilogy, both a complex meditation on death and a rollicking adventure story that is equally enjoyable whether you're 5 or 105,

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Comfort Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing about them; it's fun and easy!

Happy December everyone! It is now officially okay for you to start putting up Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music. I hope you all enjoyed Thanksgiving. I had the pleasure of having not one, not two, but THREE Thanksgivings between Wednesday and Sunday, which is why I was MIA for Thursday Movie Picks last week (for those of you who may be wondering, my three Western picks would have been Johnny Guitar, High Noon, and A Million Ways To Die in the West, with the huge caveat that I don't particularly like Westerns). They were all delicious, but very different levels of enjoyable (ah, family - can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em!)

Anyway, this week, it's the movies that we play whenever we're feeling down - the cinematic equivalent of chicken soup. So this week was pretty easy.

Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) Is there a nicer movie than Amelie? I honestly don't think there is. The story of a lonely French girl (Audrey Tautou, utter perfection) who discovers great joy in devising elaborate schemes to give other people joy - but cannot work up the courage to give herself the greatest joy, a man who loves her - Amelie is just a perfectly playful delight from start to finish, and has so many moments that just make me sigh with contentment. Plus many more that thrill me, make me laugh, and maybe even make me cry a little. Aside: When I had a car, Yann Tiersen's buoyant score was always in the CD player, and quite often soundtracked my drives. I highly recommend this; it adds a certain je ne sais quoi that makes the journey that much more enjoyable.

Shakespeare in Love (John Madden, 1998) I just... I can't even talk about this movie anymore. That perfect script, those luminous performances, that swooningly, achingly romantic score. This is romantic comedy done so, so right, and if people can't see that it's just as well-crafted, and thus just as deserving of Oscar's love, as any serious-minded war film, then I would almost go so far as to argue that they don't truly love movies, they only love certain types of movies. Which is fine, but just be honest and open about it! Anyway, the pleasures of this are so many, and so great, that I may even like it MORE each time I watch it.

Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) I mean, insert pretty much any Disney Classic into this slot, but today my pick is this one. When I was young, we had a VHS tape of this that was taped off the TV. My sister and I wore it out fast-forwarding through all the commercials. Thankfully, the constant stopping and starting didn't have any impact whatsoever on the film's joyousness. Easily the best live action film Disney has ever done, and with one of the studio's best original scores, this one really is as close to cinematic chicken soup as I have ever experienced - it never fails to make me feel better when I'm sick.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Based on a TV Series

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can play along by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us a bit about them - it's so easy!

Oof, you guys.

As if things weren't bad enough in the world, this week we have to pick movies based on TV series. While not ALL of them are disasters (Guy Ritchie's recent take on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was perfect late-summer fun), pretty much all of the ones I can think of are.

With one notable exception.

What follows are, in order, a truly terrible adaptation that might as well not even be one, a pretty good adaptation that might as well not even be one, and quite possibly the greatest film adaptation of a TV  show ever made.

Lost In Space (Stephen Hopkins, 1998) As a child of 14, I remember thinking this was fun, but certainly inferior to such classics of cinema as Independence Day. Time has NOT been kind to it. It's a low point for pretty much everyone involved, but thankfully (nearly) all of their careers suffered barely a bit. The set-up is exactly the same as the 60s TV series, but updated with a lot more serious action and big VFX set-pieces. As they did in the 90s. But in its quest to be a blockbuster, the film abandons all of the charm of the TV series, becoming just another generic sci-fi film. Trivia alert: This (of all things) was the movie that ended Titanic's 15-week reign at the top of the box office.

Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008) Look: the original Get Smart TV series is one of my favorite shows of all time, and if I'm being honest, this movie is almost as funny as that series. But it's ONLY because of Steve Carell as bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, perfectly riding the tone set by the legendary Don Adams from the TV series. The rest of the movie, though, is boilerplate spy stuff, with decent support from Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, and Terence Stamp. In other words: This didn't have to be an adaptation of Get Smart. It could have just been a spy spoof with that cast going by completely different character names. Nonetheless, I still enjoy this movie. It still makes me laugh, despite the fact that everything it did, Spy has since done better.

In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009) An extrapolation from his successful UK comedy series The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci's In The Loop is the best political satire in AGES. It also has the filthiest language ("Why don't I pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your ass with a lubricated horse cock?"), the best one-liners ("Okay, fuckity-bye," "Kiss my sweaty balls, you fat fuck!"), and the single greatest, most hard-won punchline in recent years. Inimitable performances from Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, and of course Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, the foulest mouth in the United Kingdom, make the already great script even better. What makes it such a brilliant adaptation is that it takes existing characters from a TV series and puts them on a much larger playing field while staying true to the feel of the series without feeling like a bunch of TV episodes stitched together (Sex and the City), a Very Special Episode (Veronica Mars), or like any other generic movie (Charlie's Angels). All of this feels completely true to the series that spawned it while also feeling like its own thing, which is difficult to do. Plus, it's GREAT on every single level.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Addiction

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I'm gonna be honest, guys. Tuesday night wrecked me. Wednesday has been a haze; even my office, usually abuzz with activity and chatter, was dead silent. My voice is horse from all the screaming. My eyes are dried out from all the crying. My feet are sore from all the marching in protest. And my spirit is somewhat defeated from not knowing what to do. I don't have it in me to write a whole lot about this right now, so please, forgive me.

Let's just dive right in, shall we? The subject is addiction. The movies are:

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011) Pretentious, only occasionally involving twaddle about sex addiction. Fassbender and Mulligan are the only reasons to see it and even then, I'm not sure they're worth the slog through every single goddamn well-trodden trope about addiction.

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945) Perhaps a bit over the top, but still powerful look at alcoholism. Ray Milland gives one of the best Best Actor Oscar-winning performances.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956) The best of these three, with the best lead performance, this time from James Mason as a schoolteacher who becomes addicted to cortisone. Nick Ray was a genius filmmaker, and this is well within his typical florid wheelhouse, which he turned into a sort of house of mirrors to critique the male-dominated American society of the 50s. Mason is nothing short of brilliant in the lead.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Middle Eastern Language Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Come join the motley crew of regulars by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a little bit about them!

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're off on a journey to the Middle East!

I'll be honest. I haven't seen that many movies from this area of the world. HOWEVER! I have seen enough to make all three picks this week!

...and there was much rejoicing.

Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili, 2001) Not quite as light-hearted as the trailer would have you believe, Late Marriage is about a Georgian Jew (Lior Ashkenazi, in a stunning performance) whose very traditional parents want him to just marry already! To the point where they're trying to arrange a marriage for him. But he's secretly dating a divorcée, which would be a big no-no. Late Marriage was Israel's submission for the Academy Awards that year, and I can't believe it wasn't nominated. It's really great.

Eyes Wide Open (Haim Tabakman, 2009) Short and sweet, Eyes Wide Open is as important as it is beautiful. The story takes place in the Orthodox world of rabbinical students, where two men find they share a mutual attraction. Unfortunately, homosexuality is forbidden. The film is as humble as the buildings in which most of its scenes take place, and the simplicity (and borderline austerity) works very much in the film's favor, especially as the relationship between the leads deepens. An underseen gem. 

A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) I almost never do this, but if you haven't seen A Separation yet, stop reading this and go watch it RIGHT NOW. No, seriously. RIGHT NOW. I'll wait. Asghar Farhadi's crystalline, prismatic portrait of present-day Iran is a flat-out, no-holds-barred masterpiece that couldn't possibly be better on any level - performance, editing, scoring, framing, it's all absolutely perfect. As a woman tries to get a divorce from her husband so that she can take their daughter and make a better life for themselves elsewhere, he hires a very religious woman to help care for his ailing father. There is an argument one day when the old man is left unattended, and from there things spiral outward. It's very nearly chaos, but Farhadi has the control of a master storyteller, detailing each scene and character in such a way that we can see all sides at once. It's a perfect scenario, one that plays out with the inexorable pull of classic Greek tragedy - the end was writ from the beginning, we just didn't know it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Epidemic/Pandemic/Outbreak

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I'll be honest: movies about viral outbreaks are NOT my thing. WAY too real. I'm not much of a germophobe, but this sort of thing really makes me want to crawl up into a ball, silently rock back and forth, and never EVER leave my house.

That said, these movies are really good.

Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011) Do NOT watch this movie unless you want to go through life with latex gloves and a doctor's mask on FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously, this movie is SO scary - Gwyneth Paltrow contracts a cold on a business trip, except it's NOT a cold, but rather a SUPER contagious disease, and then everything goes to hell. This movie seriously feels all too real. A ridiculously starry cast is the least that this movie has to offer.

World War Z (Marc Forster, 2014) FAR better than the initial reviews would have you believe, World War Z is a terrific thriller about a United Nations investigator who has to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. Yes, it's ridiculous, and yes it ends on a bit of an anti-climax, but its best sequences are real edge-of-your-seat, biting-your-nails, watching-through-splayed-fingers masterpieces of suspense.

Idiocracy (Mike Judge, 2006) Yes, yes, alright, fine. This TECHNICALLY doesn't have any sort of viral outbreak in it, BUT, admit it - an epidemic of stupid is kind of scarier than an outbreak of bird flu. Especially since Mike Judge's satire of American machismo and overconsumption gets more and more prescient every day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Science Fiction Horror

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the fun (and scares!) by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

Full disclosure: I was so caught up in the Presidential Debate last night that I completely forgot that today was Thursday. It was appropriate, though, since last night really was its own kind of horror movie, and we are devoted to things that go bump in the night this month on Thursday Movie Picks! Unfortunately, it's not science fiction, it's all too real... UNLIKE MY PICKS FOR THIS WEEK! #SeamlessTransition

My picks for this week all have something in common. Can you guess what it is?

The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) It's a bit of a risk casting a huge star as the lead of your movie and then keeping their face off the screen for the entire running time, but when you have a voice like that of Claude Rains, who needs a face? (And besides, this was Rains's American film debut, anyway) Rains is terrific in this, fully capturing the tension and the mania of someone being slowly driven insane by his own genius, which as resulted in a procedure that has rendered him invisible to the naked eye. The film also does a great job of capturing the feeling of HG Wells's book, equal parts funny, smart, and scary.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) When a number of his patients appear to be suffering from Capgras delusion (the belief that their loved ones have been replaced with identical impostors), Dr. Miles Bennell at first thinks it's probably just a small case of mass hysteria. But then he and a former flame find two giant pods with exact copies of themselves growing inside. And then they start to notice that the denizens of their small California town are increasingly losing all human emotion. What is going on? Are aliens behind this? Or is it.... even worse.... COMMUNISTS?!?!? One of the foundational texts of American cinema and pop culture, Invasion of the Body Snatchers still retains all of its icky paranoid power today, despite being remade - both directly and indirectly - countless times since.

The Fly (Kurt Neumann, 1958) A brilliant scientist has perfected a transportation machine. Or so he thinks. Well, I mean, it works. It works really well, actually. But the thing is, it can really only transport one thing at a time, in one direction. "Fine," you say. "What's the problem?" Well, the problem is, a fly happened to buzz its way into one of the transportation chambers when the scientist was testing it, and... well... I think you know what happens from there. Nowhere near as visceral as David Cronenberg's '80s remake, the original is very much a product of its time, meaning it's pretty scary, a little dated, and equal parts intentionally and unintentionally funny. Oh yeah, and it stars Vincent Price.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Creature/Monster Features

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves, in which participants pick three films that fit the week's theme and share a bit about them. Join us! It's fun!

Halloween Month continues on Thursday Movie Picks, and this week, we're talking Creature Features. Now, for purposes of this assignment, said "creatures" may NOT include: werewolves, vampires, zombies, or aliens. So, in other words, no extraterrestrial or supernatural creepy-crawlies. OK. Let's see if we can do this....

Them! (Gordon Douglas, 1954) Probably my favorite classic '50s creature feature, Them! is the one with the giant ants. During the height of the fears of nuclear fallout following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many B-movies exploited the mood, crossing people's ordinary everyday fears with the timely fears of science. I think Them! pulls it off the best, especially since the giant ants don't look too fake. I mean, don't get me wrong, they don't look REAL, but they don't look as far away from it as you might expect. It's just a corny, cheesy, campy, good time all around!

Creature From the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954) A fossil has been discovered in the Amazon - a possible link between man and fish. When a team goes to find the rest of the creature's skeleton, they discover that one of the creature's descendants is still alive and well - and it's coming for them! This definitely isn't the best of the classic Universal Monster Movies, but it's still fun in its way - that way that old pictures had of going "over the top" in exactly the right ways to be fun. It's a movie meant to be enjoyed with the lights off, sitting next to your date, with a big bucket of popcorn between the two of you, as you both laugh, jump, and gasp at the exact same moments.

Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984) Aw, look at that sweet little furball! Cute isn't he? He'd make a great pet, wouldn't he? There's just one slight problem.... if you get him wet, he'll multiply, and if you feed him or his offspring after midnight... well... let's just say all hell could break loose. Gremlins is hilarious fun, sending up American consumerism, dependence on technology, and old-school creature features (like my two other picks this week), and countless other things with gleeful abandon. Slightly scary and plenty funny, this is a near-perfect horror comedy, and one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Witches/Warlocks

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

It's October, which means it's Halloween Month at Thursday Movie Picks! Time for the creepy, the spooky, and the scary. I have a strange relationship with horror movies - I generally don't like them, but I'm kind of fascinated by them. This week's horror is witches (and the male version, warlocks), and they can certainly be scary. But they can also be sexy and funny. Personally, my favorite witches are the Charmed Ones, but this isn't Thursday TV Picks, so let's go with these instead...

Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) It's a tale as old as time: Young beautiful American ballerina gets accepted to prestigious ballet school, discovers the school is actually a front for a coven of witches. Suspiria is legendary for its opening scene, a notoriously bloody chase through the ballet school that ends with a brutal hanging. Giallo master Argento saturates the colors throughout the film so that it's undeniably beautiful even when it gets gory, and ratchets the tension up so well that the terrible acting almost doesn't matter. But for my money, the best part of Suspiria is the score by Goblin, which will creep up and down your spine and give you shivers for days after the movie is over.

The Witches of Eastwick (George Miller, 1987) Jack Nicholson is the Devil, tempting the all-time great trio of Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon into ever more sinful acts. And poor, poor Veronica Cartwright gets caught in the crossfire. As funny as it is macabre, this prime slice of '80s popular cinema is still super enjoyable thanks to its supremely watchable leads.

The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner, 1996) The belly of the beast of the Salem witch trials, exposed for all its hypocrisy in Arthur Miller's classic play. The film isn't perfect, but the script still is, and Daniel Day-Lewis and especially Joan Allen are All-Time Great as the central couple torn asunder by the machinations of a scorned teenage girl (Winona Ryder, giving a good performance hampered by Hytner's worst directorial impulses). This isn't as good a film as Miller's Great American Drama deserves, but it's still pretty good, with Allen deserving of an Oscar for her tremendous performance.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Teen Angst

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and posting something about them.

Teen angst, this week's topic for Thursday Movie Picks, may look different for everyone, but it pretty much feels the same. Feelings so big that you can barely express them to anyone, let alone yourself. And that's the common thread with my picks - they are all deeply, DEEPLY felt in all aspects of their production.

Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Has there been a better-filmed vision of teen angst than this one? James Dean's Jim Stark is what everyone remembers the film for (pretty tough to remember anything else in the movie when it practically opens with him drunkenly blaring "Ride of the Valkyries" and later slaying the line "YOU'RE TEARING ME APART!"), but Sal Mineo's Plato and especially Natalie Wood's Judy are even better visions of what it was like to be a misunderstood teenager in the 1950s, where suburban conformity and outward appearances meant everything. Nicholas Ray's florid direction sets the tone, and the entire cast responds in kind, performing on a near-operatic level that is totally appropriate given the emotions on display. There's a reason this one still resonates with teens now, 60 years(!!) later.

Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994) Based on the true story of two 1950s New Zealand girls who killed one of their mothers, Heavenly Creatures is a knockout of a film, one that came early in the careers of director Jackson and stars Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, and that is very nearly the best work any of them have ever done. Like Rebel, this one puts its homosexual subtext only just barely beneath the surface, as it explores the close, nearly obsessive bond that forms between Pauline and Juliet, including the fantasy world they create... and what happens when their parents decide they are becoming too close. It's a stunning vision, with a completely unique tone that Jackson, along with his fantastic cast, perfectly balances on a knife's edge.

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) Has there ever been a character that looks more like contemporary teen angst than Jake Gyllenhaal's Donnie? Dark hair combed forward, with a haunted, far-away look in his eyes, this is turn-of-the-millennium teen angst incarnate. Kelly's film incorporates aspects of sci-fi and horror to give teen angst a physical presence in the form of Donnie's visions of an apocalyptic event and a man in a bunny suit. Donnie Darko is a weird, strange, unforgettable trip of a film.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Sororities/Fraternities/Secret Societies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I wasn't in a fraternity in college. I thought about it, certainly. There's definitely something appealing about being part of a "brotherhood" and obviously the parties are a huge plus. But when it came down to it, for me, my people weren't in a frat. So I decided not to rush. And I don't regret it at all, even though I probably would have had a great time had I ended up joining.

But either way, movies about fraternities are usually lots of fun, and I will always have those!

The House Bunny (Fred Wolf, 2008) I don't care what anyone else says, this movie is HILARIOUS. Mostly thanks to Anna Faris, who is sublime perfection as an airhead Playboy bunny who gets kicked out of the Playboy mansion and ends up becoming "House Mother" to a sorority of outcasts in danger of getting shut down. Of course, the supporting cast, including Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, and Rumer Willis, is also pretty damn good. I have such fun whenever I watch this movie, even if it isn't "good".

Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001) Our heroine, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), manages to make it into Harvard Law School ("What, like it's hard?") in order to chase after the dreamy beau who dumped her for not being "serious" enough, but soon finds out that if she works hard, she might actually succeed at this whole law thing, too. In the process, she upends people's expectations of her, including her own. Not much of the movie outside of the first ten minutes or so takes place at a sorority, but Elle's status as a Delta Nu sister is important - people judge her because of it, and she uses the network of sisterhood the sorority established to get ahead without abusing it. Enough cannot be said about Witherspoon's performance as Elle, which is one of the great "dumb blondes" in movie history - Elle may be superficial and silly, but the way Witherspoon plays her, she never feels like a caricature. Bonus points for memorable support from Jennifer Coolidge (the kindly, stupid manicurist Elle becomes friends with), Holland Taylor (the hard-as-nails law professor who pushes Elle to greater things), and Selma Blair (bringing many different shades to her performance as the bitch who "stole" Elle's beau).

Van Wilder (Walt Becker, 2002) Van Wilder doesn't belong to a fraternity, but he doesn't have to. As a seventh-year senior, he throws all the best parties on campus anyway. Unfortunately, the fraternities on campus don't take too kindly to this, and when a frat president's girlfriend's interest in Van seems to grow into something besides professional curiosity (she's a journalist writing a story on Van for the school newspaper), a war begins between the frat and Van. Look. This isn't anyone's idea of a good movie. It certainly isn't mine. But, in its way, if you can get on Ryan Reynolds's smug-but-beautiful douchebag-with-a-heart-of-gold level, it's kind of stupidly enjoyable. Kind of.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sunshine Blogger Award

In an incredibly sweet gesture, the lovely Sati over at the awe-inspiring Cinematic Corner nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I am humbled and honored, and sorry that it has taken me so long to accept this award. But accept it I do, so here's what I have to do:

As given, every award has a set of tiny rules for accepting it, here are the ones for Sunshine: 

1. Post the award on your blog
2. Thank the person who nominated you
3. Answer the 11 questions they set you
4. Pick another 11 bloggers (and let them know they are nominated!)
5. Set them 11 questions

Herewith, Sati's questions and my answers.

1. Who would play you in a movie based on your life?
Well, whoever it is would have to be able to tap dance, so.... Chris Evans? Sure, he's WAY better looking than me, but I have NO PROBLEM with that.

2. What is your favorite movie ending of all time?
Oh God. This is impossible. What to choose? "Well, nobody's perfect"? "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"? "So long, partner"? Honestly, though? I kinda think I'd have to go with Summertime, which I wrote about here. It's just so fucking beautiful. (NOTE: I reserve the right to change this tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. And....)

3. Who is your favorite cinematic Batman?
I have no opinion. I firmly believe we have gotten the exact right Batman for the times in which each movie was made. If you're forcing me to choose, then I'm going to have to go with the first one I saw, Val Kilmer (who I think is quite underrated as Batman).

4. What is the funniest movie you've ever seen? 
When I saw Armando Ianucci's In The Loop in the theater, the people sitting in front of me actually got up and moved in the first five minutes because I was laughing so loud, so I'm guessing that's probably the one.

5. Your sexiest movie character ever choice?
This is going to sound so wrong, and it may just be the actor, but Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman in American Psycho has always made me feel all the tingles. Until he tries to feed that cat to the ATM, anyway...

6.  What do you like most about our movie blogosphere?
Everyone is so lovely and vocal and willing to have conversations instead of bickering back and forth like trolls.

7. What is your favorite movie blog?
It is now and forever will be The Film Experience. Nathaniel runs an incredible site and is also just the nicest person ever, and the rest of the team there are all great people and writers, too (full disclosure: I also contribute there on occasion, but only because I love reading it so much and Nathaniel indulges me every once in a while).

8. Will Sati survive Blade Runner 2?

9. What is your most anticipated movie at the moment?
So, we were asked about this for a Film Experience Team List recently, and while it was specific to Fall festival debuts, my answer wouldn't change when the pool is expanded: La La Land. Damien Chazelle directing an original musical starring the Hepburn and Tracy of the modern age, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling? I was in the tank for this from the moment it was announced, but then we got that teaser. And that OTHER teaser. And the reviews out of its premiere. And I CANNOT FUCKING WAIT UNTIL DECEMBER.

10. What is the most underseen movie you love?
Andrzej Zulawski's L'important c'est d'aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love). Absolutely astonishing film featuring Romy Schneider in one of the all-time great feats of actressing. The opening scene alone is just stunning, and grabbed me instantly. The film never let me go.

11.What movie character do you identify with?
OOF, this is a tough one. Honestly? A lot of times, it's Ben Braddock in The Graduate (the first half of it, anyway) - just feeling a little bit adrift in life not knowing what to do with myself. But most of the time, it's good ol' Bilbo Baggins, caught between the pull of the sweet safety of home/family and the burning desire for adventure. With the love of food staying constant.


My nominations for the Sunshine Blogger Award!

Actually, pretty much everyone I would nominate has already been nominated (and most have accepted), so that makes this kinda hard. BUT, there is one person who always brings the sunshine when he posts who as far as I can tell has NOT been nominated for this award, so PLEASE JOIN ME in bestowing this honor on Drew (or Fisti, whichever your prefer) over at A Fistful of Films. We all love you, Drew, and while we all know "real life" has to come first, that doesn't stop us from missing you and your posts something awful. Thanks for the light you have always brought to this little corner of the blogosphere. I don't think there's anyone more deserving.

You questions, should you choose to accept them (and anyone else please feel free to answer in the comments, too!), are....

1. What always cheers you up when you're feeling down?
2. When you go to the movies, do you get something from the concession stand? If so, what?
3. Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu Plus?
4. Who is your favorite actress who never won an Oscar?
5. Which performance of theirs is your favorite?
6. What is the first movie that made you love movies?
7. Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
8. Who is your favorite Muppet?
9. Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune?
10. How should we all feel about the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven? Because I am REALLY unsure.
11. What was the last movie you saw more than once in theaters, and why?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - College Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a bit about them - it's fun! Promise.


Sorry, guys, I'm just back from a long weekend in the woods off the grid and I had such an amazing experience that I'm not quite ready to come back to the land of the living yet. So we're gonna do this quick and dirty style.

Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) Fat Amy is a legend, and even now none of us are ready for that jelly. Best college movie in YEARS.

The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002) I love every second of this angry, energetic, playful mess of a movie. It's a blast of fresh air every time I watch it, despite Bret Easton Ellis's nihilism. My college experience was nothing like this, but this movie still FEELS like college to me.

Scream 2 (Wes Craven, 1997) How this movie ended up being even half as good as it is given the production history (the script was one of the first victims of an internet leak, prompting instant, on-set rewrites and multiple versions), I'll never know. But it's pretty damn great. Maybe even as great as the original Scream, only one of the greatest horror films ever made. Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott is now in college, and the movie about the events of the first film has prompted a string of copycat killings. Can she and her friends survive? It's a horror movie sequel. What do you think?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - World War II

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a bit about them! 
A rather big topic for this week's Thursday Movie Picks: Oscar's favorite war, World War II.

I'm generally not a huge fan of war movies, to be honest. But there are some really good ones made with WWII as backdrop, so here we go!

Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1950) The horrors of war, as seen through a child's perspective. This uniquely moving film tells the story of a young girl (Brigitte Fossey, in an incredible performance) whose parents are killed in a air raid while she saves the family dog. When the dog dies as well, she meets a young boy in the countryside, and the two of them start a cemetery for animals, and steal crosses from church cemeteries. Alternately darkly funny and poignant, Forbidden Games is a classic that everyone should see.

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998) The most beautiful war film ever made. Taking the Battle of Guadalcanal and refracting it through a diverse (ridiculously starry) cast of men of different backgrounds and beliefs, Malick confronts the terrible psychological cost of war in a way that only he can. The result is the best war film of 1998 (I SAID IT), and possibly ever.

Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) World War II as only Quentin Tarantino could film it, Inglorious Basterds is ridiculously entertaining, and not just in a revenge fantasy way. Each scene is so marvelously constructed (the bar! the movie theater!), and each one is better than the next. Fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, and Mélanie Laurent anchor the film, it's Christoph Waltz, as renowned "Jew Hunter" Col. Hans Landa that steals the show, in a flat-out brilliant Oscar-winning performance. It may be too violent for some, but I love every second of this, and agree with the famous last line: "This may just be my [read: Tarantino's] masterpiece."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Splash

Written (for the last time?!? GOD I hope not!) for the series hosted by Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience.

1984 is the year I was born. So naturally, I'm not particularly well-versed in the films that came out around that time. It's nothing against those films, it's just that at the time I was far more interested in eating and pooping and didn't know what movies were. For a long time, though, I just sort of assumed that Amadeus was the greatest film ever made ONLY because it won Best Picture for 1984. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint one bit when I finally saw it years later.

But we're not here to talk about Amadeus. Oh, no. We are here to talk about that OTHER classic from 1984, Ron Howard's fish out of water tale Splash, starring the supremely unlikely couple of Darryl Hannah and Tom Hanks. I had seen bits and pieces of Splash over the years, but this was my first time seeing it all the way through. I have to admit, my reaction to it has somewhat soured knowing that the film was originally written as the story of a mermaid trying to adjust to life in Manhattan, but no one greenlit the script until they flipped it around and made the man she falls in love with the main character. Now, by all means, the original idea might have been the worse movie, but especially in today's cultural climate, I can't help but being a bit annoyed by it... OF COURSE the story originally had a female lead and OF COURSE no one would make it until they changed it to a male lead. AND, to make matters worse/more interesting, the recently announced remake starring Channing Tatum (of all people) in the Darryl Hannah role is said to be based off of one of the earlier versions of the script, meaning that once again the main character is going to be male.

Sorry for the tangent. I just really had to get that off my chest.

Because really, Splash is a perfectly fine film, one that plays just as well today as I'm sure it did back when it was initially released. Sure, Hannah is a little stiff, but that's partly the character, and she really shines in the gorgeous underwater close-ups Howard and DP Don Peterman (aka the guy who shot my beloved Flashdance) give her:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Against the Crowd Blogathon

It's that time of year again, folks! Time for Dell On Films's Against the Crowd Blogathon - this year co-hosted by KG (of KG's Movie Rants). In case this is your first time hearing about it (this is the THIRD ANNUAL blogathon), the rules as laid out by Dell are like so:

1. Pick one movie that "everyone" loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that "everyone" hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on Tell us why you love it.

I had a hard time finding movies for the second part of this last year, and this year, I had a hard time finding movies for the first part. Go figure. Anyway, I wanted to come up with something a BIT more universally beloved that I hated, but discussion of this movie happened to come up recently thanks to Thursday Movie Picks and, well, let's just say I had something to get off my chest...

I HATE David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Sorry 'bout it.

But also, #SorryNotSorry.

I can at the very least concede that formally, on the level of pure technique, this is hardly a terrible movie. In fact, the cinematography in particular has a lot going for it, as does the score. But at the basic levels of construction and character, Fincher and his team make a couple of absolutely terrible decisions that the film simply cannot recover from. The first is also arguably the best part of the movie:

Fantastic, right? OF COURSE IT IS. David Fincher got his start making music videos, so it shouldn't be a shock that he can make a fantastic opening credits sequence that can stand completely apart from the movie it introduces (a trick he also pulled on Se7en). But that's actually a huge problem for the movie that follows. As anyone who's read the Steig Larsson novel will tell you, the first hundred or so pages are a SLOG, an endurance test of slowly advancing plot and character development before we even get to the mystery at the center of the narrative. So putting a sequence with this much energy right at the front of the film sets an impossible bar that the film by its very nature can't even begin to climb over until it's a third of the way through - and it's a LONG movie - and even then, won't really reach until the climax. It's a lie, a promise of things that aren't going to come, and amazing as it is, it's an awful choice.

The second thing, and I fully expect to get some pushback for this (and PLEASE DO, as long as you can refrain from nastiness), is the film's treatment of Lisbeth Salander and Rooney Mara's portrayal of her.

By the time Fincher started making The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the entire Millennium Trilogy had become a publishing sensation, and the original Swedish film had become as big of a hit as any movie with subtitles is allowed to become these days. Lisbeth Salander, the reclusive genius computer hacker at the center of Larsson's novels, had already become a bit of a cultural phenomenon in her own right. And so Fincher does what Hollywood does best: He cast a relative unknown in the role and gave her entrance in the film one hell of a big build-up, following her from behind as she walks into her office building while her boss talks her up on the soundtrack, and then shoots her entire first dialogue scene from far away, so she's completely isolated one side of the frame. Great sequence, right?


The sequence is ENTIRELY WRONG for the character, and it sets the stage for what is essentially an act of character assassination. In the books, Lisbeth has issues - a full subscription's worth - but she's also a strong, independent woman. She may get abused by some men in her life, but she is never EVER a victim. She is smart, resourceful, and when she is wronged, she takes her time planning her vengeance... but she's NOT a superwoman. She's not larger than life. She simply IS. As set up by Fincher and as played by Mara, though, Lisbeth becomes an all-caps CHARACTER. Not quite to the point of "look at this freaky girl! Isn't she a FREAK? But a LOVABLE ONE?" but pretty damn close. And in the film (and novel)'s most gut-wrenching scene, Lisbeth's rape at the hands of her guardian, Fincher makes no mistake that his camera views her as the ultimate victim (who later becomes a variation on the "woman scorned"), and Mara responds in kind. It's not a bad performance, but it's an utter betrayal of the character Larsson wrote in the book, lacking the subtle dimensions of the page and, it must be said, the Swedish film and its star-making performance by Noomi Rapace.

Look, I'm all for adaptations of books and plays and even other movies ACTUALLY ADAPTING the source material, but at a certain point it becomes a different piece entirely, and Fincher's film is one of the worst offenders of this that I've seen. It's dumbing down a character that the audience already knows and loves in a really base, insulting way, and I honestly thought that David Fincher would have known better.

So, in short, after that energetic blast of an opening, the film is a (well-shot and scored) slog, and its central performance is completely misjudged.

Neither of which are problems that plague my second choice of movie for this project...

I LOVE Jerome Sable's Stage Fright

Yes, I do! And not even in a guilty pleasure way.

Look, I fully acknowledge that a musical comedy/slasher flick hybrid is going to have some tonal issues to overcome right from the get-go, but... well... this movie tackles them pretty much as well as they could ever be tackled, by setting itself up as a spoof.

And yeah, that's pretty much the easiest way to deflect any criticism of your bad movie (to set it up as making fun of bad movies), but Stage Fright is just so winning, thanks to an incredibly game cast (including Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver) and REALLY clever songs:

I mean, COME ON. That's HILARIOUS. And really sweet and sincere at the same time.

As you might have guessed, Stage Fright takes place at a summer musical theater camp, where sweet young ingenue Camilla Swanson works in the kitchen with her brother Buddy. The main production at camp this year is The Haunting of the Opera, a Phantom of the Opera knock-off musical made legendary by the grisly murder of its star (Driver) on opening night, by an assailant who wore the mask of the play's main villain, the Opera Ghost, and has never been performed again.

And as you might have guessed, our heroine just so happens to be that star's daughter, ten years after her mother's murder, and as you might have guessed, she auditions for the play and (as you might have guessed) gets cast in her mother's role, much to the chagrin of the camp's owner (Meat Loaf), who, as you might have guessed, was her mother's lover. AND, as you might have guessed, this new production gets a haunting of its own - by a killer who hates musicals and sings exclusively "heavy metal" songs.

The film had me right off the bat with its opening title card: "The following is based on true events. While the names have been changed to respect the victims and their families, the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred." Perfect. Just a subtle enough hint of the tone of what's to come after the more straight horror opening. And from there, all the film's disparate elements are brought together REALLY well in set-piece after set-piece, blending together horror, comedy, and good-to-great songs almost perfectly. It is a loving throwback to 80s slasher flicks and to movie musicals, playing to the conventions of both in (amazingly) groaningly obvious ways... BUT THAT'S THE POINT.

No, Stage Fright isn't GREAT cinema. And no, it may not even be GOOD cinema. But it's made with a clear love for two genres that couldn't be farther apart and manages to bring them together far better than it has any right to. Add in some winning performances (and some perfectly teen-in-an-80s-slasher-flick BAD performances), and you have a really enjoyable movie that will leave you recommending it to all the friends who have the exact same taste in movies as you do.