Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Heist Movies

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

Another week, another edition of Thursday Movie Picks! And a very unfair one!

That's not entirely true.

It's just that, in December, there was a very similar theme: Con Artists. And while not all films about con artists involve heists... well, they usually do. So naturally when I come to this theme, I'm all "I know! Ocean's Eleven!" Except, WAIT. I totally picked that already, and not too long ago at that! So, it was back to the drawing board. But I think I've come up with some good ones. Hopefully you agree! Let's get one thing out of the way first: When it comes to heist flicks, for me, the more ridiculous the better. Give me impossible tasks, impossible twists, and improbably narrow escapes. As many as possible.

Entrapment (Jon Amiel, 1999) Let's start with your basic ridiculous heist. A very young and HOT TO DEATH Catherine Zeta-Jones gets master thief and eternal hottest man alive Sean Connery to work with her amateur ass to pull off the world's biggest heist. Except she's on the right side of the law, trying to bring him to justice. OR IS SHE??? This is pretty much your basic standard-issue heist, but the sex appeal of Zeta-Jones and Connery together is just off the charts and gives the film quite the edge. I mean, you've seen the laser training sequence, right? HOT.

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) Now let's up the ante a bit: A REVERSE heist... that takes place entirely INSIDE YOUR MIND. BOOM. Except that, for a film that spends so much time in a dream world, not very much of it feels or looks particularly dream-like. For one thing, where are all the naked people? Oh, don't get your panties in a twist, I'm just kidding. I LOVE Inception. Sure, I bristle a bit when people say the plot is difficult to follow (it's NOT, if you're paying attention!), and it wastes Ellen Page, and it's not a film that lets its imagination run wild when it really could have, but it is clever, and it has Marion Cotillard playing the most complex femme fatale in many moons, and it's much more daring than most major Hollywood motion pictures. I just hope that the debate over that stupid top at the end is over, because what's important isn't whether or not it's still spinning, but that Cobb doesn't care. (But it totally skips a little)

Now You See Me (Louis Leterrier, 2013) You want to know how to make a heist flick REALLY ridiculous? MAGIC, MOTHERFUCKERS! Let's be clear, this isn't a great movie, but it's a damn fun one - how could a movie about Robin Hood-ing magicians played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Woody Harrelson, being chased by agents Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent and magic debunker Morgan Freeman NOT be fun? Truth: It cannot. Now You See Me has razzle-dazzle for days, a sly sense of humor, and coherent, exciting action. As long as you just enjoy it for the cotton candy soap bubble it is, it is supremely enjoyable. You may not want seconds (although I did), but it leaves you with one hell of a sugar high.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

My Best of 2015

I toyed with a million ways of posting this list - charting where I diverged from Oscar, a post of nothing but gifs, Tweet-length opinions - but in the end, nothing seemed to satisfy me as much as a good old-fashioned fully written-up LIST. I'm just sorry it took this long!

I kind of wanted to do the "Top 15 of '15" thing, but then I would feel compelled to do a similar thing every year, and it would just get ridiculous after a while (is anyone going to do the "Top 21 of '21"? Really?) so I decided to keep it at an even 10. But if you're a completist, you can look at my entire list of Best Films of 2015 on my Letterboxd page here.

Yes, there are a few notable exceptions. Despite half a dozen tries, I just could NOT get myself to go see The Revenant. It just wasn't a story that interested me, and reviews generally confirmed that it was not the way that I would most enjoy three hours on any given day. I also didn't see Creed (I haven't even seen Rocky yet - boxing movies just aren't my thing) or Bridge of Spies (again, the subject matter just doesn't interest me enough, despite the presence of Tom Hanks, who I love, and my idol Mark Rylance). I know I SHOULD see them at some point. But time and money are at a premium recently, and I'm very careful how I spend mine.

So with that said, let's get to the runners-up, shall we? Hovering just outside the Top Ten, in ascending order, are Guy Ritchie's easy-breezy-sexy-cool The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; Christopher McQuarrie's stellar entry in the Mission: Impossible series, Rogue Nation; the best sequel in many a year, Magic Mike XXL; Alex Gardner's astonishing debut Ex Machina; and of course the year's biggest blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

...and then there were TEN...

10. Tangerine (Sean Baker) Taking indie film back to its punk roots, making it feel alive and vital again, Sean Baker's trans hooker Christmas comedy tears through the screen just like Kitana Kiki Rodriguez's Sin-Dee Rella tears through the streets of Los Angeles looking for her cheating boyfriend/pimp Chester. Which is to say, this is the most raucous, wild, touching comedy of the year. And it was shot entirely on an iPhone with two non-professionals in the leads.

9. Spy (Paul Feig) The Melissa McCarthy-Paul Feig collaboration reaches its apex in hilarious fashion. A note-perfect spy spoof from its first frame (complete with an inspired Bond-ian theme song and credit sequence), Spy is minute for minute the year's funniest film. The script is standard-issue spy stuff (as befitting a spoof), but it's the cast that really makes this great. McCarthy finds the perfect way to make Susan Cooper feel like a complete character, Jude Law makes a case for himself as the next 007, Rose Byrne develops her comic gifts even further (on a second watch she was even funnier than I remembered), and Jason Statham steals the show by leavening his bad-ass persona with a grand sense of comic timing. Spy is a perfect example of the modern style of improv-based comedy and deserves a spot in the annals of great spoofs, as well.

8. The Martian (Ridley Scott) It's easy to write off just how difficult it is to make a film as breezily entertaining as The Martian, especially one with such comparatively tiny stakes as this film has (come on - did you really think they were going to let Matt Damon die?), but director Ridley Scott knows what he's doing, and he had a hell of a helping hand from pop-savvy screenwriter Drew Goddard, who took Andy Weir's very science-heavy novel and turned it into a near-perfect slice of entertainment. Matt Damon gives a central performance good enough to restore your faith in movie star charisma, and the rest of the ensemble perfectly fills each of their stock roles with just enough personality to make you root for them. Is The Martian a bit slight? Maybe. But then again, what was the last mainstream Hollywood blockbuster that valued resourcefulness, intelligence, and our common humanity as much as this?

7. I'll See You in My Dreams (Brett Haley) There is so much in Brett Haley's touching, gentle film that feels anathema to movies today: Senior citizens, late-in-life love, quietness, female friendship, women in general... If that were all it had to offer, we should be grateful. But it also boasts a spectacular turn from Blythe Danner in the lead, a rich, sympathetic, lived-in performance that reminds us that neither talent nor beauty fades with age. I was far more charmed by this than I ever would have thought, given the film's title and subject matter, and I will continue to recommend it to everyone I meet, regardless of age. Because good films know no boundaries.

6. Chi-Raq (Spike Lee) The most boisterous, outright messy film on this list, but also the most potent, important film of the year, from a director whose prime seemed long past. I have been saying for YEARS that the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, about women who put an end to war by withholding sex from their husbands, was due a modern retelling, and lo, it turned out to be Spike Lee who gave it to us. The script is as perfect an adaptation as we could hope for, capturing the raunchiness and profundity of the original while updating it to modern-day Chicago, known as Chi-Raq because of the prevalence of guns and shootings there. He even keeps the rhyming poetry of the speech without it feeling put on. Samuel L. Jackson pimps it up as the Greek Chorus narrator, Teyonah Parris and Nick Cannon spit fire as Lysistrata and her gang leader beau, and Angela Bassett gives the film the rage it needs as the leader of the elder generation. Chi-Raq is perhaps the least great of the year's best films, but it's far and away the most important, and a film that is impossible to sweep under the rug.

5. Inside Out (Pete Docter) The most creative, ingenious film of the year. The most colorful film of the year. The most "best scenes" of any film this year. The most surprising film of the year. Pixar's latest triumph is all of these things, and features a perfectly cast ensemble of voices giving indelible performances. Its whole may not be as great as the sum of its parts, but moment to moment it is incredible, and I probably remember more of this movie than any of the others in my Top Ten.

4. Grandma (Paul Weitz) Lily Tomlin is an absolute knock-out as the title character of this film, giving the quirk of Paul Weitz's script (written specifically for her) just the amount of acid-tongued realism it needs to land potently. Tomlin's Elle may have a lot of baggage, and she may have lived a lot of life, but when her granddaughter comes to her needing money for an abortion, the aging lesbian feminist puts all that aside - as much as she can, anyway - to help the cause. And make no mistake, it is a cause, for Elle and Sage and thousands of women across the country, to have the power to make their own decisions about their own bodies without any authority other than their medical professional telling them otherwise. That the film treats the abortion as a mostly not controversial thing is revolutionary in its own right, but Grandma is just as much about one generation passing on its torch to another, and learning from each other. It's about what family means in this day and age, when we're "more connected" but somehow even farther apart. And it also happens to be one of the funniest films of the year, too.

...and now, my holy trinity of 2015.

3. Carol (Todd Haynes) Immaculate, crystalline perfection. Every frame of Todd Haynes's masterpiece is crafted to such brilliant beauty that I almost feel inadequate talking about it. Perfectly cast, deliciously designed, and swoonily scored, Carol had me from its very first frame. Some may call it chilly, but that's only because it so perfectly captures the feeling of New York in the winter. Elsewhere, Carol is full of warmth - watch the ice surrounding Rooney Mara's heart slowly melt, watch the fire spewing forth from Kyle Chandler's and Sarah Paulson's eyes as they battle over Cate Blanchett (who has never looked better thanks to genius costumer Sandy Powell), watch how Haynes makes a simple touch on the shoulder mean the world. Queer desire has never been this fragile, this impactful, this romantic, this... beautiful. Carol is the truth.

2. Room (Lenny Abrahamson) Nothing in 2015 makes you feel as much as this, and nothing was made with such tight constraints of space and perspective. A model of adaptation, Emma Donoghue's script of her own novel retains the unique voice of young Jack, born and raised in an 8'x8' room where his Ma has been held prisoner for years, even without him narrating the whole thing. The actors develop an incredible shorthand when in Room and believably navigate new sensations and relationships in the tricky world outside it. And in between those spaces is the most tense, electrifying scene of the year, as Jack makes a thrilling escape. Lenny Abrahamson had the most difficult job of any director this year and pulled it off with style, aplomb, and lots of heart.


I must announce the winner of my "Jury Prize". That's a special citation I always give the film that I am in awe of as one of the most well-made films of the year, but that I had trouble actually enjoying all that much, thus making it impossible to properly "rank" the film. For context, previous winners include: Under the Skin, Before Midnight, and Amour. This year's winner is:

Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra) Completely unlike any film you're ever likely to see, Guerra's trek through the Colombian Amazon in search of a legendary plant follows two white explorers thirty years apart, led by the same man. Utterly mesmerizing and stunningly shot in black and white, this is one of those films that shows you a world you wouldn't be able to see otherwise, and in some cases, maybe shouldn't see. At times equally a ripping adventure tale, a vicious anti-colonialist screed, a squeamish psychological horror film, and a study of the emptiness and loneliness that comes from being the last of one's kind, Embrace of the Serpent is, in many ways, why we go to the cinema.

AND NOW! The moment we've all been waiting for...

1. Brooklyn (John Crowley) I make no bones about it, this one meant more to me personally than any other film this year. It is perhaps inevitable that John Crowley and his team of designers and technicians and craftspeople got little love for this, the most deeply felt film of the year. Brooklyn is a film that practically begs for the label "old-fashioned", but happens to be the rare film for which that descriptor isn't in any way a bad thing. This is solid, old-school Hollywood filmmaking of the first order, in service of a story that only seems slight because it was released in a year full of louder and more overtly Important films. But I ask you: In the current political climate, what is more Important than reminding everyone that ALL of our ancestors were immigrants once, and that it is possible to love your new home even more than your place of birth? Nothing. And Brooklyn is the most beautiful, heartwarming reminder of that.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Music Biopics

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

So, I had already basically done this for last year's "Movies About Music/Musicians" week, before realizing that movies about REAL-LIFE musicians were verboten. So this week was pretty easy to do. Here you go, the good, the bad, and the ugly of music biopics. In that order.

De-Lovely (Irwin Winkler, 2004) And right off the bat I MAY be cheating a bit, because Cole Porter wasn't so much a musician as a songwriter, but I don't care. This is far and away my favorite music(-adjacent) biopic, an easily entertaining - but NOT easy - film with two lovely central performances by Kevin Kline (in the role he was born to play) and Ashley Judd. Unlike the earlier Night & Day with Cary Grant, De-Lovely doesn't shy away from Porter's taste for men, but that's just one superficial reason why this is a superior picture. Solid filmmaking all around, plus cameos from a rogue's gallery of music stars singing some of Porter's most famous songs. What's your favorite? Mine is probably John Barrowman singing "Night and Day", with Vivian Green's poignant "Love For Sale" (and its stunning one-take scene) in a close second.

Get On Up (Tate Taylor, 2014) It's sad, really, because all the elements were there for this James Brown biopic to really soar. But unfortunately, the film decides to jump around in time whenever it feels like it for no real reason at all. Chadwick Boseman is electrifying as the Godfather of Soul, Nelsan Ellis and Dan Aykroyd offer reliable support, Brandon Mychal Smith makes a killer cameo as Little Richard, and Viola Davis is her typical stellar self as Brown's mother. The costumes, hair, and makeup are great. The music and choreography are fabulous. But the film's structure and editing are so far gone as to make this one very nearly unsalvageable.

Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, 2014) ...but then again, Get On Up for all its faults is nowhere near as mind-numbingly awful as Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the hit Broadway musical about the rise and fall of The Four Seasons. The stage show has such tremendous energy as it barrels through its story and the hits that happened along the way, but Eastwood sucks it all dry - and I'm not just talking about the severely drained color palette. The actors are almost entirely at sea (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing this part, is hopeless despite his golden voice), the musical numbers are flatly staged (not to mention the downright embarrassing sound mix on the film's big number, "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You"), and the few issues with the stage show's script are somehow even worse in this version. And worse than all that, it's boring as all hell - the filmic equivalent of listening to an AM radio oldies station that keeps fading in and out when you're a kid on an hours-long road trip with your parents and they refuse to change the station.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Intersecting Stories

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 a bit about them.

This has been a bit of a rough week for me, so we're going to do these quick-and-dirty style.

Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004) Let's get this one out of the way right off the bat. Certainly undeserving of its Best Picture Oscar, but almost equally undeserving of its reputation as an irredeemable piece of shit, Haggis's magnum opus tells the stories of a multi-cultural cast of characters as they ricochet off each other in the melting pot of modern-day Los Angeles. The moral of the story? Everyone's a little bit racist. Yes, it's a bit trite and overly pre-determined, but the performances are pretty damn good, to a one.

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999) The similarities between this and Crash are, on the surface, kind of striking: Anderson's film ALSO tells the stories of a (much less) multi-cultural cast of characters as they ricochet off each other in the melting pot of modern-day Los Angeles. AND, they both end with something strange falling from the sky. The main difference between them, of course, is that Magnolia is actually really good. Up until those damn frogs appear, it's utterly hypnotic, featuring near-best-ever work from Tom Cruise (ROBBED of an Oscar), John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards, and Felicity Huffman, among others.

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) Easily the best of these three, and one of the best films ever made, Tarantino's magnum opus tells the stories of.... oh dear lord... a  multi-cultural cast of characters as they ricochet off each other in the melting pot of modern-day Los Angeles (I think). I SWEAR I didn't plan on doing a theme within a theme this week, these were just the first three I thought of! Anyway, I don't know what else to say about this one except that it is justly iconic, and it's impossible to pick between Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman for best performance.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Atonement

Written as part of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series hosted by Nathaniel at The Film Experience.

Watching Joe Wright's Atonement for the first time since seeing it in theaters in 2007 - and for the first time since reading Ian McEwan's novel - what impressed me most was how effortless everything felt. For all its formal rigor - it is as meticulous and careful as Briony Tallis's signature stiff walk - everything flows so elegantly, and feels as easy-breezy-beautiful as Keira Knightley smoking a cigarette.

But the film runs so much deeper than that, at every possible level. Jacqueline Durran's costumes (even beyond THAT stunner of a dress). Dario Marianelli's note-perfect score. Christopher Hampton's smart screenplay. Seamus McGarvey's lighting, framing, and camera movement. It's nearly impossible to believe that this was somehow considered an also-ran in the awards race in its year ("awards bait" MY. ASS. A well-made film is a well-made film).

As strong as the film is, though (that Dunkirk sequence, even beyond the justly famed long tracking shot, is just jaw-dropping), I always felt at a remove from it, something that was perhaps necessitated by the very literary coup de grâce which ends the novel, which is nearly impossible to translate to film.

I say "nearly", because the film has an ace up its sleeve in Vanessa Redgrave's performance. Hampton finds probably the only way to make that ending work on film, but even still the whole thing rests on Redgrave's shoulders, and sturdier shoulders you simply will not find, no matter where you look. Without her, the movie falls flat on its ass.

But even then, she's given an incredibly solid base to work with thanks to Saiorse Ronan's smart, exquisitely directed performance. The film's first third is its best, largely because of how effectively Wright and McGarvey are able to frame everything simultaneously from a child's point of view AND the point of view of the adults whose actions she cannot help but wrongly interpret. Well, not actually simultaneously, but you understand what I mean. They allow us to get inside of the heads of people on both sides of the story almost infuriatingly well. Like in my best shot:

The first time we see it, it's incredibly easy to see it as Briony does, even though we're able to figure out what is really going on quite easily. And then, we rewind to see what happened from Cecilia and Robbie's perspective, and it's almost too hot for its own good. Seriously. This scene should be studied, WILL BE studied for ages as a master class in how to shoot, cut, and score a sex scene. The whole thing is bloody well perfect, putting over exactly the hot, breathy rush of secret, almost-public sex. But this one shot feels forbidden in a way that is almost scary, with the way he has her pinned with her legs spread, and the way one of her hands is gripping his hair but the other is wide open in his clutches. It is simple but complex, it's absolutely gorgeous to look at, it works on multiple levels - it is a perfect example of everything the film does so elegantly, effortlessly well.

I'm also pleased to say the film works much better for me now than it did back when I first saw it. And I almost picked this shot as Best, just because of how stunningly composed it is:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Narrated by Narrators That Do Not Appear on Screen

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's very simple to join in the fun. All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and tell us all about them. Try it -  you'll like it!

This week was a tough assignment: Movies with third-person narration; i.e. movies narrated by someone outside of the story, in this case specifically by someone who doesn't appear on screen. I'll be honest. At first I could only think of one movie, and it was one I had already picked in a previous week last year. But after a glass of wine and a browse through my movie collection later, I thought of another, and another, and another! And all was well with the world. AND THEN it turns out one of those, my favorite, actually, had also already been one of my previous picks. GOD DAMN YOU SELF AND YOUR STUPID RULES! And then my second favorite of those is actually more appropriate for a later theme. So yeah, this week went from tough to easy and all the way back to tough again. After all that, let's see if anyone else picked any of these.

The thing about third-person narration is that by its very nature it adds a storybook quality to the film, which is something that can go very wrong very quickly. But in the hands of the screenwriters and narrators of these three films, it goes oh so wonderfully right.

Matilda (Danny DeVito, 1996) The books of Roald Dahl have been fertile ground for movies, but for some reason, this one seems to be one of the least heralded of those. Given that it gets Dahl's tricky tone down exactly right, I'm not really sure why. Matilda (the preternaturally talented Mara Wilson) is a smart, gifted young girl whose parents (real-life marrieds Danny DeVito - who also provides the third-person narration - and Rhea Pearlman, hamming it up to perfection) pay little to no attention to her. Oh, and when I say "gifted", I mean in the Carrie White sense. Yes, this is basically Carrie: The Elementary School Years, and appropriately the horror is of a very slapstick nature. But the film is just off-kilter enough to make it work. It's a perfect children's entertainment, and extols the virtues of learning and respect of library books. What could be better than that?

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006) When you're trying to make a film of a novel as interior and literary as Patrick Süskind's Perfume, it's maybe best you just don't do it, but if you must, hiring John Hurt to do some narration isn't a bad way to go. The other, more difficult, thing to do is to change the plot JUST enough so that your film becomes kind of its own thing, but keep the spirit of the novel intact. That Tykwer mostly manages that feat is quite something, especially since the story of Perfume is a queasy one: Grenouille, due to the rather disgusting conditions of his birth, has the world's most acute sense of smell, and no smell of his own. Naturally, he winds up as an apprentice to a master perfumer, to learn the trade of scent. But it's so easy that he sets his sights on something bigger: To distill the essence of beauty itself into a perfume. Naturally, the only way he can think of to do this is to kill beautiful women and take their scent. I can't imagine how Tykwer managed to make a film of this novel, let alone one this beautiful. And beautiful it is, capturing exactly what it is about beautiful scents that so drives Grenouille, and often drives us deeper into our own vanity.

(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009) "This is a story of boy meets girl... You should know upfront, this is not a love story." And with that bit of Richard McGonagle narration, Marc Webb's debut feature shot straight into immortality. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel make for an adorable, unfortunately mismatched pair who are destined not to be "the one" for each other. The film charts their relationship by bouncing back and forth among the 500 days they spent together, mostly focusing on the little seemingly-incidental moments in a relationship that you later realize were actually hugely meaningful. I remember really liking this but having reservations about it when I first saw it, but haven't seen it since. I'm curious to see if it holds up better or worse than my memory.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Ghostbusters

Written as part of the series hosted by Nathaniel R. over at The Film Experience, where I also contribute on occasion.

The Film Experience's Hit Me With Your Best Shot is BACK, BITCHES!!!!! And I couldn't be happier, even if this season's first episode is a bit of a strange one. I mean, it makes sense: The pop culture mainstay from 1984 just made its debut streaming on Amazon Prime and the trailer for this summer's female reboot/remake/whatever just dropped not too long ago. So that all makes sense. But the thing is, Ghostbusters is a special effects-driven horror/comedy, and as Nathaniel has been reminding us for quite some time now, great special effects DO NOT automatically equal great cinematography.

Not that Ghostbusters is in any way lacking in iconic imagery:

Hello, gorgeous!
Or in imagery that makes me giggle:

Good puppy!
But picking my favorite shot is mostly a fool's errand. I enjoy Ghostbusters, sure. But one of the things that impressed me most while rewatching it for this project is how remarkably efficient it is. The movie's 107 minutes just fly by, and hardly any of them are wasted. And the special effects on the ghosts are absolute perfection, just barely transparent enough so that they feel almost tactile in addition to being fully spectral apparitions. You fully believe that they can touch things like library books and hotel room service trays, but that if you touched them, all you'd feel is some ectoplasmic goo.
All the ghost special effects hold up spectacularly well, by the way. Those with the Keymaster and Gatekeeper in their dog/gargoyle form, not so much, but CGI was in its infancy in those days. But perhaps that's for the best, because those animatronic put the film's true lineage into perspective: Ghostbusters is a perfect '80s blockbuster version of the classic 50s monster B-movies, complete with the EPA butting in to worry and hand-wring about potential nuclear ruin (indeed, how perfectly 1984 is it that the film's secondary villain, and main human one, is an inspector from the Environmental Protection Agency?). And a monster B-movie simply isn't a monster B-movie without a man in a giant rubber suit walking right through the center of the nearest metropolis:
Best Shot
This is The Traveller, and He will Destroy us. So of course, it's going to be a 50-foot tall marshmallow boy in a sailor suit with a jaunty little cap on who is smiling the most innocent smile. It's an image that can inspire both fear and laughter, which is the tone that Ghostbusters works best in. But it's also the image that makes the most sense when thinking about the film's legacy and impact, bridging the gap between the old-school monster movies and the slick "high concept" Hollywood product of the 1980s.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Obligatory Oscar Reaction Post

...soooooooooooooooo you may have noticed that don't tend to do these things right away. I'm no good at snap judgments - I tend to not know when to stop. I did manage to spit out something over at The Film Experience about the Best Song performances that we got (don't get me started on the ones the fucking producers decided to cut...), but happily my reaction to the show overall was much stronger than that.

Chris Rock did a valiant job as host. The monologue was killer, except for the Stacey Dash bit (it took me a good minute to remember why anyone would think having her do that would be funny, by which point Rock had already moved far beyond it). The Compton cinema bit went on a bit too long but it was pretty funny, and really a good reminder of what the public in general, NOT just black people, think about the Oscars. No one knows most of the films that get nominated for the Oscars. One of my co-workers even said to me on Monday that he had no clue the Oscars were even on this weekend, and when he saw The Revenant recently, he had no idea that it was even nominated.

Oscar watchers have now become an insular, self-selecting group, and I for one am perfectly fine with that.

I'm also perfectly fine with most of the winners from 2015. I was hoping against hope that Todd Haynes's near-perfect Carol wouldn't walk away empty-handed (I predicted it for Costume Design), but I can't get mad at Mad Max's sweep of the tech categories. That fucker is one superbly, often ingeniously, well-crafted film. It's so balls-to-the-wall creative that it's amazing it even got nominated, so I'm thrilled that AMPAS members recognized that great craft can be found anywhere. I was happiest for its wins in Production Design and Editing, the two elements that I thought contributed most to the film's narrative and adrenaline rush.

Weirdly, I correctly predicted ALL of the Short winners this year. That NEVER happens. Of course, my predictions elsewhere kind of sucked the big one. For which I mostly couldn't be happier. I honestly thought they were going to go whole-hog for The Revenant in the techs instead of Mad Max. And though I had Spotlight as my Best Picture prediction for a while, I ended up switching it to The Big Short for some reason. Probably because it won the PGA.

This year's ceremony was actually suspenseful for once, in part because of the seeming three-way race for Best Picture (thank you, guilds!), and in part because the Mad Max sweep really did make it feel early on like that film might be a huge spoiler. But then Lubezki made history by winning his third Best Cinematography Oscar in a row, the acting categories all went as expected (Mark Rylance in Supporting Actor being only a mild surprise, as he was the only person nominated for every single precursor award), and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñàrritu became the third person to win back-to-back directing Oscars.

I dunno. I'm commentaried out. I'm fine with the Best Picture winner, the Acting winners are all deserving (if not all for their winning performance), the crafts winners were entirely on point, and the ceremony itself was fun to watch (although it really is a pity about Stacey Dash, Sam Smith, and that fucking thank you scroll).

Coming soon: Oscar's Ballot vs. My Ballot vs. My Oscar Ballot

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Storms/Adverse Weather

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three films that fit the week's theme (this week suggested by yours truly!) and telling us about them!)

Well, they say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and that's certainly true so far here in good ol' Manhattan - the winds have been whipping down the streets so strongly that sometimes they just push you right along your path. It's not awful but the wildly fluctuating temperatures are finally taking their toll on my body - I can just feel the cold coming on and I do NOT like it. I will be throwing everything in my arsenal at it in the hopes that it does not get worse, but I don't know... sometimes you can just tell when it's not going to go away...

BUT ANYWAY, who cares about my health (other than my mother)? We're here to talk movies!

One of the things the movies do better than any other art form is present "larger than life" events, which makes them ideal for showcasing the darkest side of Mother Nature. Unfortunately, most movies focused on such special effects-heavy adverse conditions don't have super-well-written scripts to go along with the impressive visuals, but I suppose you can't have everything.

Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996) I still remember seeing this for the first time in the local $2 second-run movie theater. I was 12. I don't remember if it was my first PG-13 movie or not, but I remember watching it in awe. Of nature, of moviemaking, of science... of just about everything on screen. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt are exes and storm chasers who are flung back together for a series of mighty strong tornadoes - NOT AT ALL because they love each other, ONLY for the science! They have to get close enough to the tornado's path in order to drop a container of mini weather robots that look like metal balls. But also far enough away that they don't get sucked up into the tornado themselves. It's a dangerous game, but somebody's gotta do it, and they're both crazy enough to get right up in there to accomplish their goal - especially since there's also a rival, better-funded team lurking about. It's thrilling stuff, and the special effects still hold up - shocking for a film made twenty years ago. OH, and the name of the machine they created with all the weather robots? Dorothy. Which leads us to...

The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) In which a Kansas farm girl gets knocked on the head during a tornado and proceeds to accidentally kill one woman and be manipulated by a pink-wearing bitch who travels in a bubble and a charlatan of a Mayor into murdering another in order to return home. OR MAYBE it was all a dream! Oh, I kid, I kid. Everyone alive knows The Wizard of Oz. By now, it's part of our cultural knowledge - it's seeped into our collective consciousness in a way no other film has, and with good reason: It's the simplest expression of all the possibilities of film, the perfect introduction to movies for anyone. To know it, is to love it.

The Impossible (J.A. Bayona, 2012) Ya know what? I don't care about the whitewashing. I really don't. Yes, the real family the story is based on was Spanish, not British, but when we got these amazing performances from Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland, I don't really care. And on a purely technical level, this film is just astonishing. The sound design is one of the best, most inventive I've heard, putting you right there in the middle of the tsunami with these characters. It's a stunning film that deserved not one bit of the backlash it received.