Thursday, April 26, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: Holding Up The Set

This is the final post today, and I thought it was quite fitting that it ended with the first of the acting categories, which, as my favourite categories, are the real meat of these awards (along with the top ten, naturally). For the four acting categories I will, as with my top ten, be providing a short commentary as to why the particular choice has been made.

So, here are the Gold Stars for Best Supporting Actor.

The cast of The History Boys, taken wholesale from the ensemble that performed Alan Bennett's hit play on-stage, are overall rather dampened on the screen, it seems, with about half of the eight titular boys having virtually nothing to do as the others dominate the rather iffy plot strands which entwine with their teachers. Cooper is, indeed, one of these dominators, and he's so good at dominating that he just about eclipses the rest of the cast into nothingness. Magnetic, cocksure and irrepressibly arrogant, Cooper's Dakin is perfectly wise to the effect he has on fellow student Posner (Samuel Barnett) and his new teacher (Stephen Campbell Moore), and Cooper is superb at carrying off his character's freewheeling attitude towards them. Cooper is given an alarmingly direct speech towards the end of the film, which nevertheless fits congruously within the smooth limits Cooper has given to his character. Dakin evidently undergoes a large mental shift through the film, but Cooper is smart enough to almost ignore this- Dakin could be dying inside, but you'd never know it for all his smarts. Cooper is one The History Boys' few actors whose presence is still felt with the move to film, and I can't wait to see his next move.

[Warning: spoilers] Dano may be young like Cooper, but his character is markedly different- Dwayne is a self-imposed mute for much of the movie, and though that's certainly a hook we've seen before, Dano has fun with his sullen facial expressions and manages the clever balance between amusement and exasperation as his family exude their unique craziness around him. However, it's in the second half of the film that the film allows Dano to truly make an impact. When Dwayne's dreams come crashing unexpectedly down around his head, Dano turns a rather stodgy moment in the script into a truly devastating emotional head- at first, his silence so normal to him now, he wordlessly freaks out in the back of the minivan, face bleeding with upset, body jangling like nobody's business. The impact Dano manages to inject into his profane breaking of his silence is not simply loud, but hurtful: this is a boy so undone he can't will himself to exist anymore; he needs to break himself apart. As the movie makes its way to an ending, the focus moves to Dwayne's little sister Olive (Abigail Breslin), but Dano does superb stuff in the background too: quietly healing his new wounds, Dano shows how Dwayne finds solace in the people he had previously been spurning: his family.

12 and Holding was a truly surprising movie to me when I finally saw it just a few weeks ago: intelligent, mature, unpredictable, truthful. And this is a movie that's primarily concerned with children. After the opening tragedy the film pretty much divides itself between the three closest children to the boy who died: his brother, and two friends, one a portly male whose loss of smell leads to surprising events, and the other a young pre-teen girl (Zoe Weizenbaum) with a psychiatrist mother. It is in this latter thread that Jeremy Renner comes into play. As the troubled patient of Weizenbaum's mother, Renner's character could easily be played using the usual dolorous expressions and mumbling speech patterns, but, to his immense credit, Renner eschews that. His physicality is perfectly normal, yet underlined by a weighty sadness- you constantly get the sense that Renner is a man on a precipe, ready and even willing to fall. The plot entails Weizenbaum getting a crush on Renner and enters some potentially creepy territory, but director Michael Cuesta, while making it clear that Weizenbaum is not really understanding the world around her, doesn't give in to anything predictable. And neither does Renner: it would be easy to give his character extreme reactions to the situations he's in, but Renner is superb at underplaying his character while slowly chipping away his depression. Gus Maitland is a man lost; Jeremy Renner is a man to be found.

The Departed's cast is so rich that there's quality to see everywhere you look, and yet, every time I've seen it, it's the dynamic combination of Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg's unexpected partnership that stands out to me. These two actors are remarkably different in acting style and indeed character, and yet, as is surely intended, they compliment each other strikingly well. Wahlberg has a ball with his character's angry, foul-mouthed and arrogant attitude, yet ultimately embues it with real damaged and committed depth; Sheen, meanwhile, patiently sighs at Wahlberg's profane rants and then gets on with his job. He reluctantly yet welcomingly becomes a helping hand to Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan (which he'll live- or not- to regret), and Sheen plays the experienced boss with an unexpected warmth and alertness. The Departed's unravelling plot ensures that this team don't actually spend much screentime together, but both are a treat whether together or apart, and I think that's the mark of a great actor.

Apologies to: Rob Brydon, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; Danny Glover, Manderlay; Chazz Palminteri, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

Victim's Gold Stars: #7: I Want Cake!

THE TOP TEN: #7: Marie Antoinette

The sensory delights of Marie Antoinette may appeal to our most basic desires, but they are not to be underestimated. What Sofia Coppola has created in this delicious confection is a mental recreation of what it would have been like to be the infamous queen, or at the very least what it would feel like if a 21st Century American girl (like, say, Kirsten Dunst) found herself living in the Palace of Versailles at the end of the 1700s. The easiest complaint to level at Marie Antoinette is that it lacks historical accuracy, but Coppola is not trying to recite a history lesson- read a book, for gods sake. What Coppola does so wonderfully in Marie Antoinette is focus intently on all the qualities that film is designed for- the popping '80s soundtrack, the flashing montages of shoes, and cake, and gambling, the ravishing pastels colours of a dazzling array of desserts. Marie Antoinette is a feast for the eyes, the ears, and god help me if it didn't get my taste buds salivating as well. But Marie Antoinette is not a Kirsten Dunst teenage film transplanted into the 18th Century. Coppola may play dodgeball with the facts but the script is superbly tailored so that, just as the world of the queen herself came knocking on her ornamental door, life comes crashing down around this fictional interpretation too, a warning that perhaps all this confection is too much distraction. Even if it does taste fantastic.

Victim's Gold Stars: It's All In The Microchip

Well, actually, it's not always in the microchip. Here are my picks for Best Visual Effects.

Victim's Gold Stars: #8: Fountain of Love

THE TOP TEN: #8: The Fountain

The Fountain is a bit like The Departed in a way, in that it's not perfect, not entirely polished. It's a bit verbose, a bit pretentious, a bit laughable, a bit mystifying. But, like The Departed, it's a better film for these faults, because what The Fountain lares bare is the mind of auteur Darren Aronofsky. Outside of David Lynch this is the strangest American film I've seen in years, an ambitious, overwhelming sensory experience that might make no narrative sense but, as does Lynch, coheres into an emotional rush that has you weeping as the credits roll. The Fountain's arching concern is the acceptance of death- Hugh Jackman's triple character has him searching for the antidote to death, accepting his wife's death, and transcending death. Aronofsky's philosophical concerns bleed into The Fountain's every pore, from the ethereal photographing of his partner Rachel Weisz to the gorgeous, erratic scoring from Clint Mansell. The Fountain blends mythic culture, scientific confusions and meditative ethereality to create a unique experience, one that openly exposes its complicated and messy origins to let the audience open itself to the feeling entirely.

Victim's Gold Stars: A Way With Words

I'm going to try to pick up steam on these or I'll never get them done, so expect quite a few entries today (I won't be able to do any at the weekend, so I suppose in effect I'm not really speeding up). Anyway... here are my picks for Best Original Screenplay.

Milo Addica & James Marsh

Fred Breinersdorfer

Anthony Cipriano

Christian Puiu & Razvan Radalescu

Eric Roth

Next up: No. 8 on the Top Ten countdown; and Best Visual Effects.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: #9: We Are Gathered Here Today...

THE TOP TEN: #09: The Departed

More than any other film on my top ten list this year, The Departed is a movie- that is to say, it is a film that you can chew popcorn through, that you can laugh and tense and gasp at, that isn't really trying to subliminate messages or portray a meaningful story (there is nothing wrong with doing these things, of course, as the rest of the list demonstrates); it is instead there to entertain, to be enjoyed, and to be experienced. I've seen it three times now, twice in equally crowded cinemas and once on DVD, and, although its vitality still shows on the smaller screen, The Departed strikes me truly as a movie to be enjoyed with others, whether you know them or not; I loved observing the gasps at a certain cast member's ghostly fall from a high building, and the jumps at the excitable climax. Many have commented that Martin Scorsese finally got his Oscar when he stopped looking for it; and in a way that's true, because nothing in The Departed- apart from perhaps the starry cast- smacks of bait or conformity. The Departed shows Scorsese truly enjoying movie-making again- sure, it's a bit messy, a bit over-stuffed, a bit rough, but the lack of polish here is exactly what makes The Departed so fantastic. It's exposed, and it's wonderful.

Victim's Gold Stars: Facial Talent

It's all about looks in today's Gold Stars category: here are my picks for Best Make-Up.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: A Way With Other's Words

No posts over the past few days as I suffered in illness and then made the transition back to university; but here, finally, the Gold Stars continue, with the Best Adapted Screenplay picks.

Frank Cottrell Boyce (from the novel by Laurence Sterne)

Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (from the novel by P.D. James)

Bent Hamer & Jim Stark (from the novel by Charles Bukowski)

William Monahan (from the 2002 screenplay "Wu jian dao" by Siu Fai Mak & Felix Chong)

Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis (from the novel by Ian Fleming)

Next up: the award for Make-Up; and No. 9 in the Top Ten Countdown.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Grinding Down

Well, not to be passé, but it looks like Grindhouse is getting split down the middle. From Obsessed With Film:

After the unsuccessful release state side, it seems UK audiences are going to miss out on getting Grindhouse as a double-feature.

Filmstalker have got the heads up on a teletext article which features the following comment from Roadshow Film Distributors:

In keeping with the theatrical release plans for all territories outside of the US, Grindhouse will now be released as two separate theatrical features.

And what about the ‘fake’ trailers between the movies? I assume they will still be attached somewhere, presumably the beginning, but as many people have already commented Grindhouse only works as a double-feature and the movies do not stand up all that well on their own. In addition, if you are to believe what you read at Filmick, Planet Terror won’t be getting an international release AT ALL. The new ploy? To release Death Proof as a stand alone ‘New’ Tarantino movie.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the entire point of Grindhouse was to re-create an experience, no? Money rules feeling, as always. Also, if they do release both films (separately), then they'll be pitting Roderiguez against Tarantino: who'll make more? Which rather negates the collaborative push behind the thing, doesn't it? And if they don't release Planet Terror, well... they just suck.

You know what they should do? Release them as separate movies, since they seem so set on that, but at the same time. And then showing times should be organised so that you can go from one into the other, if you so choose. Sure, it means paying more money (no problem for me, thanks to my unlimited card), but surely people who really want to see it will pay up, and those who can only be bothered to see one can do so. But please, DON'T take away this experience from me. I so rarely get the chance to participate in something like this.

Victim's Gold Stars: #10: Deeper Underground

THE TOP TEN: #10: The Descent

I saw The Descent way back in 2005, when the DVD was released in the autumn, after a summer run that I was unable to participate in (I wasn't old enough for the 18 certificate), and I have no shame is saying that the film terrified me, even on the miniscule screen in my bedroom on that spinning disc. The Descent is as dark as horror films come, not least because most of it takes place deep underground, where it was ensured there was no light bar what the potholing girls had brought with them. The Descent's underground labyrinths are entirely false, but you'd never guess; so tight is Neil Marshall's directorial control over these tiny spaces that the feeling of claustrophobia and panic is utterly palpable. The film doesn't even let you in easily: a quick introduction to the clan of girls whom we'll be following into the darkness is a tense, unspoken suspicion of betrayal, topped off by a sudden and horrifying car accident, the backlash of which feeds cleverly into the later machinations. In essence I suppose The Descent is nothing new, really, but how often do you come across a horror film- and a British one no less- that's this tightly controlled, this committed to its convictions, and this atmospheric? The Descent still lives with me almost a year and a half after seeing it, and surely that's some kind of power.

Victim's Gold Stars: I'm Sorry, I Can't Hear You

Let's knock these sonoral pleasurers out in one go. Here are my picks for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects.

Best Sound

Best Sound Effects

Next up: Best Adapted Screenplay; and No. 10 on my top ten countdown.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Victim's Gold Stars: They Go Together

Well, I still haven't seen Curse of the Golden Flower (I will!), but I thought I might as well get these awards rolling before I go back to university next week and my drive is hijacked by... books, or something. I am at least presenting a category that I suspect Curse will have no effect on: Best Ensemble. So, here are the lauded five who all get gold stars:

Daniel Miranda, Diego Cataño, Danny Perea & Enrique Arreola

Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin & Toni Collette

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ving Rhames, Tom Cruise & Maggie Q (with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Crudup & Keri Russell)

Garrison Keillor, Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep & Lindsay Lohan (with Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly & Maya Rudolph)

Lewis Alsamari, Peter Hermann, Ben Sliney, Christian Clemenson, Trish Gates, Omar Berdouni & Cheyenne Jackson

Monday, April 16, 2007

They're zombies! Oh, and those others like to take a bite out of your necks...

Dawn of the Dead is, like, terrifying. Seriously. I don't think I've been this scared by a film since I saw Blue Velvet years ago and was constantly shivering from utter terror. There's one particular bit in Dawn of the Dead to do with a pregnancy that was so obviously going to be horrifying but it made me so uncomfortable that I almost fainted. And this was from watching on DVD! The film itself- which is, as I'm sure you're aware, a remake of George A. Romero 1978 sequel (which I haven't seen- I tried once, when it was on tv, but I just wasn't in the mood for gore then) to the terrific Night of the Living Dead- isn't overloaded with gore (though it's still pretty violent), but is more concerned with sustaining an atmosphere, as a group of survivors of the sudden zombie epidemic hide out in a well-protected shopping mall and try to plot a way to escape. The film is remarkably well-cast when you consider what it is- no big names so to speak, but indie-regular Sarah Polley (who directs the soon-to-be-released Away From Her with Julie Christie) headlines, with solid background names including Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer astutely playing their purposely surface roles- these aren't people we ever have time or need to get to know, as they don't with each other for the most part. To its credit, Dawn of the Dead never divides itself into set-pieces, never repeats itself, and feels remarkably fresh and modern. Grade: B+

The Holiday, meanwhile, clearly wants to be fresh and modern, what with all its gleaming, expensive and expansive L.A. mod-cons and its cosy, extraordinarily remote English cottages, but all in all it feels rather backward, not just because of its squishy romantic sensibility but because of its antiquated ideas of what British life is like (Cameron Diaz is disturbed by how small Kate Winslet's lovely cottage is- bitch should try living in my house) and how freakin' manipulative it is. Also there's an enormous subplot- I say subplot, but the supposed romance between Kate and Jack Black is hijacked by her friendship with Diaz's elderly screenwriter neighbour Eli Wallach, while Diaz spends all her time snogging the face off Jude Law, because, eww, if the girl isn't a stick and the guy is a tiny bit portly no-one wants to see more than a peck! Anyway, said subplot is all about how Wallach (and thus Winslet) bemoan the kind of movies we have today (the kind Diaz, as a maker of movie trailers, is all about making "look like a hit"), yet all the while director/writer Nancy Meyers is indulging in exactly that! I don't think The Holiday is totally bad, because there are some nice touches in there (Diaz can't stop that familiar trailer voice from overlaying her own predicaments) and the cast are a capable bunch who do their best to paper over the creaky, sentimental gaps, but The Holiday is never truly heart-warming, even in the corny sense, and even though its all so bloody long (2 hours and ten minutes!) I doubt it'll leave much of an impression on anyone at all. Oh, and it hasn't snowed like that in England at Christmas for ages. Grade: C

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sunshine through my cinema...

God knows I was looking forward to Sunshine. I'm not really sure why, because pretty much every film by Danny Boyle that I've seen (and, thanks to a handy tv showing of Shallow Grave on Thursday night, I've now seen all his feature films), with the exception of 2005's charming Millions, I've had major issues with. But I think the intriguing premise (the sun is dying!) and the eclectic, only-slightly-famous cast were just too big a pull for me. And the trailer, with that horrifying shot of Michelle Yeoh slamming into the camera, made the film seem especially daring and unusual.

But I guess I shouldn't get my hopes up too high. Sunshine is good, yes, fine, and in fact for the first half I was gripped, impressed, wowed. The film never stepped out Alien-territory, but that's a fine film to be emulating and the aforementioned attractive elements kept it separate enough. And the film is visually stunning, with the obvious rich palette of colours and sleek, shining photography of the sleek, shining sets and spaceship. Sunshine, however, is one of those rare films where I can pin-point exactly where it became weaker- and I won't spoil it, but there is a specific scene, even a specific line of dialogue, when I just sighed and cursed screenwriter Alex Garland under my breath. Sunshine didn't need this plot development, it could have been so much better without it, and it seems like such a rip-off that it just makes me roll my eyes. From then on, Sunshine struggles to get back to its former quality, and almost succeeds, until the overwrought and silly ending sees it slide back down again.

But let us focus on the positives. Sunshine's cast is small, sure, but meaty, delicious, from Hiroyuki Sanada's stoic captain to Cillian Murphy's slightly eerie (but when is he not?) physicist. Standouts, however, prove to be Rose Byrne as the emotional pilot Cassie, who in a few brief scenes with Murphy's Capa hints at a developed connection (and lit up the screen with her smile), and the Human Torch himself, Chris Evans, who melds movie-star charisma with surprising acting chops, selling some weak scenes with superb delivery and providing the film's most memorable and fiery character. Sunshine's more Armageddon-ish impulses mean that there's not much room for character, especially for those who are pecked off first, but even the less-featured actors provide some felicities, and Garland is impressive in his building of their strained, distant interactions: these are people who have spent over a year and a half together, and yet don't really know each other at all.

Sunshine is eminently watchable and often sweatily gripping, and is blessed by a dynamite cast and a dazzling visual sense (remarkable given the relatively small budget of £10mil/$50mil), but it gives in to familiar impulses and ultimately emerges as a disappointment. Nevertheless, it's markedly more intelligent than the majority of movies released to a wide market, and hopefully the uneasy balance on the line between the avant-garde and the popular will pull in both sides and give each a taste of the others' medicine. Grade: B-