Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman (1925- 2008)

We all knew it was coming... but now it's actually happened. Movie legend Paul Newman had died aged 83. I'm hardly the one you'd come to for a eulogy, so I'll keep it brief. I almost feel as if I'd only just started getting to know Mr Newman... I only saw his classics Hud and The Hustler a few months ago, and I have still to catch up on Cool Hand Luke... I feel as if I'm only just coming to terms with how superb he really was, and now he's gone. Condolences to his family and everyone who was close to him: he will, truly, be missed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

See? Casey Affleck can be fun!

I was going to do a bigger post on Gone Baby Gone (which, yes, they actually allowed us to watch), but it's all been said so instead I will simply offer this amusing facial expression from Casey Affleck.


Go Back in Time

Go is a total nostalgia trip. Do YOU remember the time when:
  • Sarah Polley could headline a film?
  • Sarah Polley starred in films instead of directing them?
  • Sarah Polley could act? (See evidence against.)
  • Sarah Polley looked uncannily like Sarah Cracknell?
  • Sarah Polley was important enough to be mentioned this many times in one post?
  • Jay Mohr was in every other film? (I love Jay Mohr. I don't know why. Don't you miss him? I know he's still alive.)
  • Katie Holmes looked human?
  • Katie Holmes could act? (See evi... oh, you know.)
  • Katie Holmes had a haircut that didn't suggest she becoming her husband? (Seriously, what is going on there? If I didn't know it was for a tv show I'd be seriously worried. (This point sponsored by a current tv advert mentioning the Tom Cruise haircut.))
  • Katie Holmes didn't have to stand in a ditch to be shorter than the men around her?
  • A film could have a sense of morality about drugs while still being fun and not being a lecture in the vaguest sense?
  • A film could have a gay couple as central characters without it being their defining characteristic, or even important in the slightest?
  • Scott Wolf got to star in a movie? (Why did Katie Holmes become the famous one again?)
  • William Fichtner was creepy? (Oh... wait.)
  • Taye Diggs! was funny? (He deserves the exclamation, because when he appeared I exclaimed exactly that in my head.)
  • Doug Liman made good films? (This brief period ended in 2005.)
  • I was just eleven years old? (Isn't that alarming.)
Watching Go is so nostalgic that when I thought about it again this morning I felt like I'd actually seen it years ago and my viewing last night was a joyful revisit. It was in fact the first time I'd ever seen it. B+

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Bond With Tess

Looking at the upcoming release schedule, I came across a rather strangely titled film, so I decided to investigate. I couldn't find much on this Quantum of Solace, only really this picture:

Now, I don't know who he is (some indie-film actor, I think), but I do know who she is. Gemma Arterton (for it is she) first came to public attention when she starred in the by-all-accounts-heinous revamped St. Trinian's film towards the end of last year, but it's 2008 that is already proving her breakout year. She was in another film I've avoided- the latest Guy Ritchie opus- and showed her superior status by playing the famed Elizabeth Bennett for the millisecond she was needed in ITV's hilariously entertaining series Lost in Austen (worth checking out for another young Brit, Jemima Rooper, as the modern reader of Austen who switches places with Lizzie- oh yes, you read that right). Casting news for the future also came with a big part in video game adaptation Prince of Persia (with Jake Gyllenhaal)- let's all hope that's not as shit as it looks (me, judgmental? Never.).

But I think that the role that will define Arterton's year- this Quantum thing doesn't look up to much, quite frankly- is her titular role in the BBC's latest period novel adaptation (the only thing the BBC are much good at these days, excepting celebrity dancing). As Thomas Hardy's most famous heroine, Arterton is almost perfect as Tess- likeable but not infallible (she is often infuriatingly reticent, although I think much of that is what makes me identify so much with her), beautiful but not untouchable, sympathetic but not pathetic. The script may have- apparently (I am ashamed to report I've not read the book- I'm sure it is better, derisive visitors)- made Alec D'Urberville a more straightforward villain that he was written as, but it's an impeccable production that digs deep into the personal turmoil of Tess. Of course any moment of happiness for Tess is hung over by the impending sense of doom that we all know accompanies any Hardy work- and that's what makes it so heartbreaking, and so compulsive.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Waiter, my pie has too much Keira Knightley in it...

[This is a review disguised as a mathematical dissection. It may also contain some spoilers.]

I was lying in bed last night wondering: if Keira Knightley's new film The Duchess were a pie, what would it's main ingredients be? So I decided to figure it out.

(click to enbiggen)

40%... Keira Knightley. Despite what the (hilarious) title of this entry may suggest, Miss Knightley is actually very good in this film. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's her best performance yet. It has more weight than her (still lovely) turn in Pride and Prejudice, and there's none of that stilted British accent shit from Atonement. This is- since she is the titular character- "her" film, so to speak, especially since director Saul Dibb seems remarkably insistent on sticking the camera square-on to her face. She handles it very well. She makes a believable transition from naive new bride to increasingly disillusioned woman, as the Duchess (of Devonshire) hides her private turmoils behind her fashions and her sprightly public persona. She's charming, but not aggressively so, putting as much emphasis on her character's foibles as her strengths and letting the situations we see her in speak for themselves.

15%... Children. Alright. So the children themselves aren't physically in this film a great deal. But in the end the film shows itself to be all about them. The Duchess' mother has clearly put all her efforts into getting her daughter into the best position possible, but the Duchess' own generation is also all about sacrificing themselves for their children. The movie even overplays this a bit, as Lady "Bess" Elizabeth (Hayley Atwell) spells this out for both us and the Duchess as she tries to explain her dalliance with the Duchess' husband. And the Duchess, ultimately, does the same (again, the script overplays this, and sacrifices another aspect of the film for it, sadly, but we'll get to that). What the film, thankfully, doesn't spell out is how this is, obviously, destined to be a never-ending chain- children sacrifice themselves for their children, who sacrifice themselves for their children, creating a never-ending legacy of unhappiness. It makes me never want to have children, because I'd probably be a horrible parent.

12%... The ambiguous morality of Ralph Fiennes. I hope y'all pronounced his name correctly. One of the cleverest aspects of the script is how it lets Fiennes' character unfold in the same way for us as he does for the Duchess- character identification, you see? He's initially a cold, unreachable figure, who becomes a dangerous, volatile, selfish one, and it's only in the latter part that he gets the chance to speak his part, and you feel he only does so because, at least as far as he's concerned, the Duchess has finally become adult enough to understand what he's trying to tell her. What he does is inexcusable, but the film leaves you unsettled about how hateable the man can really be.

10%... Extra-marital sex. What would an eighteenth-century historical biopic be without some juicy affairs? Nothing, that's what. And here, you almost get three for the price of one! The openly accepted one (naturally, since he's a rich man) between the Duke and Bess is all played out between them and the Duchess at the dinner table, their sexual dalliances left to the Duchess' POV as she stumbles on servants listening to their first encounter. But this menage-a-trois isn't just between the two- I was surprised when their was a brief female moment, which I didn't think would happen even as it did- simply because I'd heard nothing about it! Which is a good thing, really, because it shouldn't be anything to get excited about (and it is quite brief).

But what's best here is the affair between the Duchess and eventual Prime Minister Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper, hooray). This may be me at my most basic level, but the lengthy lead-up to them even kissing really did it for me. It probably helps that they're both so attractive. And unlike the other affairs, there is considerable action that goes on here. Can I say yum?

Okay. I'm done being shallow now.

8%... Politics. A film consisting of even this much politics may scare some people off, but it just wasn't enough. I knew that the Duchess of Devonshire was a big political campaigner, and we just didn't get enough of it. I suppose I could credit the film with treating its audience with intelligence by not explaining the political positions of the Whig Party, but I fear it's more a case of that being construed as "boring". I wanted to understand what the Duchess was standing for, what she was (briefly) standing up in support of, but the film only seems to go there to further the relationship between her and Grey. And this is what I referred to earlier- in the Duchess' decision between Grey and the Duke, it's only and always her children, never the threat of what it would do to Grey's political career- which could, I assume, have been greatly important in furthering the country's development.

7%... Feet. I think Saul Dibb is a foot fetishist. He certainly goes for the classic 'stepping out of a carriage' shot. I think the only part of the body we saw as much of as people's feet was the back of Keira's head (identification, you see?). Indeed, Dibb does show his limits as a director here- the other classic period shot you may find yourself rolling your eyes at is the wide angle of the dinner table, as the Duke and Duchess sit about a mile away from each other. Wonder what that signifies?

5%... Big hats. The Duchess- as she herself spells out early on- expresses herself through her fashion. And she certainly does have some extraordinary headgear in this film. Sadly, I can't find a picture of my favourite one (it's the one with the enormous feather), so you'll have to settle for this one instead.
2%... Charlotte Rampling. I did really like The Duchess, but doesn't every movie's awesomeness factor go up by about 40% every time Charlotte Rampling turns up? Here, she's scarce but very brilliant as the Duchess' concerned but critical mother.

1%... Burning hair. Yes. The most hilarious moment of the film comes in a tritely-filmed sequence where a drunk Duchess stumbles backwards into a candelabra and ends up having her wig put out by a servant pouring wine on it. Sadly- or perhaps even more brilliantly- it has actually been removed from her head at this point. Revealing how little hair she really has. (Still, it's better than the greasy hair that Ralph keeps under his wig.)

And that, good people, is what ingredients go into making a competent, enjoyable if flawed historical biopic. I give it a B, and I wouldn't mind eating it again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Zack and Miri Lose Some Weight


A nice slice of vengeful brilliance:

Seriously, though, the whole MPAA fuss over the first poster is so absurd (how is any worse than this? At least Zack and Miri are: A, fully clothed, and B, devoid of creepy smugness) that I bow down to Kevin Smith/the studio bigwigs/the poster designer (i.e. whomever is responsible) for reacting with such knowing creativity. Actually, this is much better than the first poster- in which I can't for the life of me figure out what's making Elizabeth Banks react in that particular fashion- so, ultimately, we must applaud the MPAA for enforcing one of the year's best posters upon us.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Liv-ing It Up

Liv Tyler is a strange one, isn't she? She's beautiful, likable, a fairly good actress... and yet I can't imagine anyone becoming as devoted a fan to her as people are to the likes of Winslet (guilty as charged) or Streep or Moore or... you get the picture. Liv Tyler just seems to... exist. She's kind of always there, but has never really made much of an impact, despite being in big (budget) films like Armageddon and The Incredible Hulk. I doubt anyone really dislikes her, either... she gives perfectly proficient performances but there's just nothing to get excited about.

I say all this because, by pure coincidence, I saw Liv in a film for two days in a row: Lonesome Jim, a 2005 American indie film that was finally released on these shores this year, which I snagged on DVD from the library, and then, the following day, I checked out The Strangers in the cinema (mainly because The Duchess started a bit too early for me to get into that). I had high hopes for Lonesome Jim- mainly because it stars Casey Affleck, who's become a favourite of mine- but it ended up being a bit of a damp squib. It trots along just as expected, not really making much of impression. All the kernels of observation have been made before, the quirky plot twists are unsurprising, the technical work unexciting. I did like the initially unusual line it took between Tyler and Affleck's characters- it didn't put on a flirtatious premise as they met, simply going straight from their awkward meeting to uncomfortably quick sex in the hospital where Tyler works, not having this central pairing dance around each other. Things peter out after that, and, while good work from Mary Kay Place and a scene-stealing Jack Rovello (as Tyler's son) keep interest afloat, I ejected the DVD afterwards with an impassive sense of disappointment. C

The Strangers is an entirely different kettle of fish, but strangely enough I found myself to it reacting in much the same way- initial interest and promise slowly coming to nothing. I always find myself questioning, when I go and see this type of movie (i.e. scary horror thriller types), why I'm putting myself through the ordeal, so I spent the first half of the movie or so fearful of what the film was going to do to me later, as I expected the scare quotient to up itself considerably (I was very jittery during the early shocks, but then I jump at a knock at the door in reality so I'm surprised I didn't actually leap out my seat when the same happened in the cinema...) in the latter half. Instead, I just got quite bored as Liv scrambled around on the grass trying to avoid stepping on her twisted ankle (you can observe this above). This is hardly the type of film that really demands anything particularly spectacular from its cast, so to say Liv was quite good here is actually quite a compliment. She has to hold up much of the film on her own and she really does the paranoid despair thing very well. And I must say, I can't remember being so convinced (and therefore panicked) by a scream as I was when she let out her belter of one (and thankfully kept it there, unlike Jamie Lee). But as it went on the scares just kept repeating themselves ('OMG they're there! Oh, wait, no, they're not. *bang bang* Oh, crap.') and the ending(s) was completely bizarre. However- I thought the sound was super (LOVE vinyls jarring) and I was probably more frightened that I'd admit to anyone's face. So, after much deliberation, it's a B-.

My favourite Liv film, by the way, is probably Inventing the Abbotts, which more people should watch. It also has Joaquin Phoenix in it!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Stupid Screen International...

I got a little excited when the BBC put up their usual story about this past weekend at the UK/Ireland box office... mainly because they were reporting that Step Brothers, that dreadful-looking Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly (what happened to you, Mr. Cellophane?) "comedy" had come in at the superb flop positioning of number 7. 'Really?', I thought. 'Have people finally had enough? Is the epidemic coming to an end?' Sure, Mamma Mia!, which is hardly quality itself, had apparently returned to the number 1 spot, but I'd rather people see a celebration of ABBA (who, in case you didn't know, are completely and utterly brilliant) and embrace the tradition of the musical rather than encourage subpar frat brother juvenile humour (I expect- you don't really expect me to subject myself to that, do you?). And even better is the fact that The Strangers- which, well, yes, could be rubbish, but I am actually going to discover that for myself- was second and had made almost as much as Mamma Mia! despite being in about half the number of cinemas.

But then I see that they've updated their article and Step Brothers was the winner after all. So that was the end of that.