Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hours1

 

If there’s a lesson to be learned from James Franco’s grueling ordeal in 127 Hours, my guess is that the wrong people will learn it.  By now, most people know the story of young Aron Ralston, the climber who became trapped in a Utah canyon and was forced to amputate his own arm.  Ralston, who failed to alert anyone to his whereabouts, spent five miserable days in a hellish hole before, essentially, rescuing himself.  The moral of the story seems to be:  No matter how tough (and young) you think you are, at some point you’ll need other people.  (A second lesson is obvious:  Don’t mess with Mother Nature.)

Believe it or not, I used to be a young man, even more foolish than I am now.  So I’m guessing the reaction from today’s young men to this film will fall into one of two camps:  1) Wow, I guess I’d better not try to be so much like Superman – I really do need friends and family, or 2) That Ralston dude was a wimp.  I’m going out climbing tomorrow, and I ain’t tellin’ nobody!

British director Danny Boyle, whom I think is better suited to fast-paced material (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later come to mind), is constrained here to one actor and one setting.  He tries to overcome this potential handicap with a series of low-impact flashbacks and hallucinations whilst his hero is trapped.  These predictable techniques are only mildly effective.  The audience doesn’t have much emotional stake in Ralston’s life, unlike the connection we felt for Tom Hanks’s marooned executive in Cast Away.

Franco is personable and entertaining as the focus of nearly every scene (somewhere, Ryan Reynolds – similarly entombed in last year’s Buried – is scratching his head and wondering what became of his Oscar nomination), but he can only do so much.

As for the famous amputation scene, it’s gorier than I was led to believe, but I was more affected when Hanks had to extract his own tooth in Cast Away.     Grade:  B 

 

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Director:  Danny Boyle  Cast:  James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Sean Bott, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Clemence Poesy, Koleman Stinger, John Lawrence, Rebecca C. Olson  Release:  2010

 

Hours4    Hours5

 

Hours6    Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Egypt 

 

Some years ago a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was published.  Judging from news footage of the burning streets of Cairo, the conflict over there seems to be about something we all learned in kindergarten:  It’s the “haves” versus the “have nots.”

Egyptians are simply saying “enough is enough.”  The problem, more or less, is the same everywhere else, including the United States.  So when Obama decries violent demonstrations in Egypt, he does not have the moral high ground — not when he’s given the OK to millionaire tax breaks.  The Washington Post reports that in Egypt, a major grievance is the fact that “money and power have become hopelessly entrenched in the hands of the few.”

As an aside to all of this, how on Earth did the media, once again, get caught so flat-footed by this story?

 

*****

 

Malibu

 

Weekly Rant:  This lisping jerk Prentiss and his annoying son in “Passages Malibu” commercials are driving me to homicidal distraction.  Take that worthless fruit of your loins and move to Egypt, where they will know what to do with both of you.

 

*****

 

Kucinich

 

I used to admire Dennis Kucinich.  But now, with his threat of a frivolous lawsuit over an olive-pit sandwich, he is exposed as just another privileged jerk.  Please join the “Passages Malibu” father and son and move to Egypt.

 

*****

 

Harvey

 

Relationship guru Steve Harvey’s ex-wife is spilling the beans about Harvey’s cheating ways.  Hey ladies, you know which kind of guy is least likely to cheat on you?  It’s the guy who has little or no opportunity to cheat, because he is not rich and he is not famous.  In other words, he is the guy who is least like Steve Harvey.

 

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Born

 

Rumor has it that Hollywood is about to resume its long love affair with Esther Blodgett.  Clint Eastwood is interested in directing Beyonce in the fourth big-screen version of A Star Is Born, the cautionary tale about show business that in the past attracted movie legends Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, James Mason, and Fredric March.  Check out the 1937 original starring March and Janet Gaynor – in glorious Technicolor (aren’t you excited now?) – free of charge by clicking here.

 

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Invite1

 

The Uninvited, a 1944 black-and-white ghost story, is by no means a “scary movie,” although it might once have been.  But this mystery about a brother and sister who buy a house on an English seaside cliff is something better than scary:  It’s haunting, and in a good way.  The Uninvited is perfect for rainy-night viewing, with its séances and ghostly apparitions and atmosphere – above all, its atmosphere.  The film features dancing shadows and candlelight and a theme song forever associated with one tragic actress, the beautiful “Stella by Starlight.”

The actress in question was named Gail Russell.  Just 20 years old when she was cast in The Uninvited as Stella, Russell was a painfully shy, doe-eyed beauty who should never, ever have gone into the motion picture business, even though films like The Uninvited might have been the poorer.

Hollywood lore has it that Russell began drinking on the set of this film to overcome her debilitating stage fright, and that’s when the trouble began.  Well-publicized run-ins with the law, a divorce, rumored adultery – just another day at the office for modern playgirls like Lindsay Lohan, but no joke for an actress in the 1950s.  By the time Russell was 36 in 1961, she was dead from liver damage and malnutrition, found on the floor of her studio apartment, alone and surrounded by empty bottles of booze.

“I didn’t believe I had any talent,” Russell once said.  “I didn’t know how to have fun.  I was afraid.  I don’t exactly know of what – of life, I guess.”  There’s your scary movie.       Grade:  A-

 

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Director:  Lewis Allen  Cast:  Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Dorothy Stickney, Barbara Everest, Alan Napier  Release:  1944

 

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Invite4           Invite5

 

Invite6   Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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                      Good Brit                                               Bad Brit

Gervais      Morgan2

 

Ricky Gervais was a brilliant host at the Golden Globes.  The best jokes have an edge, and Ricky socked it to some big shots, including Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, and Robert Downey, Jr.  Proof of Gervais’ success came in the form of Entertainment Weekly,  in which Hollywood kiss-butt Mark Harris whined that the comedian was “unprecedentedly nasty.”  Harris wouldn’t recognize comic genius if it kicked him in the balls — because he hasn’t any.

As I feared, Piers Morgan is off to a rocky start with his new show on CNN.  Morgan’s “interview” of Oprah Winfrey was an embarrassing display of sycophantic fawning, blubbering, and journalistic Jell-O.  We learned that Oprah is all about love and giving back to the little people.  We also learned about the depths of Morgan’s insecurities.  Morgan’s interviews later in the week, with Howard Stern and then Gervais, were a bit better, but only because the guests were more interesting than Winfrey.

 

PEOPLE STERN FCC

 

*****

 

EW

 

I’m not sure how to broach this subject without coming off as a homophobe, but as long as I’m trashing Entertainment Weekly …  EW should really consider changing its name to The Advocate.  Not a week passes without the magazine gushing about the gay-centric TV series Glee, and EW’s gay-centric slant is apparent in most of its celebrity profiles.  The mag reached critical mass this week with a cover story about gay teens on TV, and yet one more spread about its beloved Glee.  I fully expect next week’s issue to arrive in the mail with a bouquet of roses.

 

*****

 

Olbermann2

 

It’s too soon to know the complete story behind Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC, but if it was a matter of Olbermann versus The Suits, I will always, always side against The Suits.  And if Comcast had anything to do with this, then screw Comcast.  And if this blog mysteriously vanishes, it’s because my Internet provider is Comcast.

 

*****

 

Ebert1

 

Roger Ebert’s new show is misleading us, because  Ebert himself is conspicuously absent.  The first episode reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock Presents — if you tuned in expecting Hitch to direct, you would be disappointed.

 

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by Richard Bachman

Walk

 

In the introduction to this edition of The Long Walk, King attempts to explain his decision to create “Bachman,” whom he describes as his dark half, a writer more disposed to gloom and doom than the sunny, optimistic author most people know as Stephen King.  But I’m not buying it.  I defy anyone – other than King himself – to read any back-to-back Bachman and King books, without knowledge of the “author,” and then confidently declare which book was written by which version of the writer from Maine. 

Somehow this distinction seems to be important to King, but I doubt that his “constant readers” give a damn.  What does matter is story, and that’s where someone – King, Bachman, or the Ghost of Christmas Past – excels.  The Long Walk was published in King’s prime (1979) and chronicles a mysterious march undertaken by 100 boys walking without pause from the Canadian border to Massachusetts.  This bizarre societal ritual takes place in some alternate universe, but Walk for the most part steers clear of something that I believe trips up so many King novels:  the supernatural. 

Walk’s ending is abrupt, and the teenagers suffer a bit from “Dawson’s Creek Disease,” in which the boys are implausibly wise beyond their years – quoting Keats, making literary allusions, debating philosophy – but the story itself is absorbing, suspenseful, and original.

 

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Social5

 

Disclaimer 1:  I have not seen all of the films generating Oscar buzz.  Two films in particular – 127 Hours and Waiting for “Superman” – have given me the slip, so I reserve the right to change certain predictions and preferences after I see them.  But I have seen the majority of 2010 movies that give critics like Roger Ebert a 2 a.m. stiffy.

Disclaimer 2:  Unlike some critics, I don’t pretend to have in-depth knowledge of the technical categories.  I liked the look of The Book of Eli, but I have no clue if those super-cool visuals came courtesy of the art director, cinematographer, production designer, director – or some combination of the preceding.  Similarly, I can’t tell you if the bathtub scene in Black Swan is so effective because of great editing, sound effects, or the guiding hand of director Darren Aronofsky.  So I am copping out of all predictions and preferences in the technical categories.  On the other hand, I feel I am as qualified as the next joker to tell you which movie I thought was best, and which performance, and which story.

Best Picture:

Will Win:  The Social Network

Should Win:  The Social Network

A boring pick, I know.  I think a lot of people could have made this prediction before the film was even released.  The Social Network was clearly a matter of the right people tackling the right subject at the right time.  Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher, and a film about Facebook – how could it lose?  It won’t.

My top five films of the year (alphabetical):  Blue Valentine, The Ghost Writer, The King’s Speech, Never Let Me Go, The Social Network

Best Actress:

Will Win:  Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Should Win:  Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)

Bening made me forget I was watching a politically correct movie about an “unconventional” family.  Instead, I simply appreciated her fleshed-out, highly amusing character.  Portman’s emotional arc in Black Swan ranged from concerned expression to worried expression to very-uptight expression.  Portman does, however, masturbate in one scene and engage in oral sex in another.  That’s the kind of thing, I have read, that impresses Oscar voters as a display of “guts and determination.”  Reminds me of 2001, when Halle Berry had to get naked and simulate sex with Billy Bob Thornton for Monster’s Balltalk about guts and determination.  Bening does not have sex in The Kids Are All Right, and she does not have the advantage of 500 close-ups, as does Portman in Swan.  But “guts and determination” will carry the day.

Best Actor:

Will Win:  Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Should Win:  Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Firth’s main competition is Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network.  Eisenberg was superb – but was he portraying the real Mark Zuckerberg, or Zuckerberg as imagined by writer Aaron Sorkin?  I’ve seen Zuckerberg in televised interviews, and he seems nothing like the hostile, antisocial young man played by Eisenberg in the film.  But should that even matter?  Eisenberg’s intense portrayal was riveting, fact-based or not.  But Firth has at least two things going for him:  He lost to Jeff Bridges last year (sympathy factor), and he absolutely nailed an acting challenge in The King’s Speech:  a convincing stutter.

Best Supporting Actress:

Will Win:  Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Should Win:  Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

I don’t see any performance out there strong enough to top Leo’s scary mother hen in The Fighter.  Amy Adams?  She was good, but I doubt that I was the only one watching her and thinking:  “That’s Amy Adams acting with a Boston accent.”  Leo wins, but I think this is a weak category.

Best Supporting Actor:

Will Win:  Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

Should Win:  Christian Bale (The Fighter)

This is a tough call.  I won’t be unhappy if either of them wins.

 

Worst

 

Best Documentary:

Will Win:  Waiting for “Superman”

Should Win:  Best Worst Movie

If I had to put a label on 2010, I’d call it The Year of the Documentary.  There was a period when nearly every week saw the opening of another first-class nonfiction film.  These docs fell into two general categories:  old-fashioned, “just the facts, ma’am” films (Countdown to Zero, Client 9, Joan Rivers), and a new breed that blurs the line between fact and fancy (Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop, I’m Still Here).  Most of these movies had serious subject matter.  My favorite documentary of the year, however, had ridiculous subject matter:  the filmmakers and fans behind Troll 2, reputedly the worst movie ever made.  Best Worst Movie is my pick because it has that most elusive of all qualities:  charm.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Will Win:  The Social Network

Should Win:  The Social Network

Ten years ago, Sorkin was reinventing TV dialogue with his rat-a-tat exchanges in the superb The West Wing.  He hasn’t lost his touch.

Best Original Screenplay:

Will Win:  The King’s Speech

Should Win:  Blue Valentine

I have nothing against The King’s Speech; as a crowd-pleaser it excels.  It was Rocky with royalty.  Blue Valentine had a tougher assignment:  It made depressing material compulsively watchable.

Best Director:

Will Win:  David Fincher (The Social Network)

Should Win:  Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer)

Polanski has absolutely no chance of winning, and might not even be nominated.  That doesn’t bother me much because I’m a Fincher fan.  The Ghost Writer, Polanski’s polished political thriller, has a pair of formidable obstacles.  First, it was released nearly a year ago, and Oscar voters have notoriously short memories.  Second, it was directed by Polanski, whom some people regard as a child molester.  But it was smart, smooth, and seething with low-key suspense.

Annual Snub Award:

Inception:   I was enjoying this blockbuster until it suddenly turned into a routine shoot ‘em up, resembling nothing so much as an episode of Mannix, circa 1968, and at which point it began to bore the crap out of me.  Give this movie a nomination for screenplay, give it an Oscar for special effects, and then give it the brush-off.

Newcomer of the Year:

Noomi Rapace of Sweden’s Dragon Tattoo series gave us the most original female character of the year.  If she were nominated for Best Actress, I’d take her over Portman and Bening.

 

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Best Movie I Saw in 2010:

The best movie I saw in 2010 won’t be winning any Oscars this year, because it already has one.  Produced in 2009  but not released in the U.S. until the spring of 2010, Argentina’s The Secret in Their Eyes was easily the film of the year.

 

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Kingdom1

 

I’ve never been to Australia, but if there’s another country (or continent, if you prefer) that has more in common with the United States, I’d like to know what it is.  Australia and the U.S. share a common history.  More so than, say, Canada, we share a “wild west” mentality that lingers to the present day.  More so than England, we have prominent gun cultures.  Aussies and Americans love their macho, and they love to drink.

So it comes as no surprise that our movies are similar, in particular our crime movies.  An armed-robbery gang lives in a blue-collar neighborhood.  Loyalty to the gang is paramount, and so is fear and hatred of the police.  One young man wants to escape this paranoid world, preferably with his sweetheart.  I am describing Boston and The Town, but swap Beantown for Melbourne, and you are watching Animal Kingdom.

Australian actress Jacki Weaver has gotten a lot of attention for her role as mother “Smurf,” the reptilian matriarch of the crime family in Kingdom, but – at least until the final minutes of the film – her part is relatively small.  Weaver is good, but this movie belongs to Ben Mendelsohn as eldest son Andrew.  Andrew just wants to be helpful, he’ll tell you.  Are you gay, but hesitant to “come out”?  Sit down and talk to Andrew about it.  Having troubles with your teenage girlfriend? Andrew can be your friend and counselor.  But beware, because Andrew isn’t always so friendly ….

Animal Kingdom is compelling, but like The Town, it’s not a great movie.  Part of the problem, I think, lies with the young protagonist, Joshua.  Joshua is a typical teenage boy, full of angst yet shy to the point of being a complete enigma.  He is a blank slate, and it’s tough for an audience to relate to blank slates.      Grade:  B

 

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Director:  David Michod  Cast:  Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville, Dan Wyllie, Anthony Hayes, Laura Wheelwright  Release:  2010

 

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Kingdom5

Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Saturday

 

I have a soft spot for this comedy, and no, it’s not because Al Franken stars.  I am fond of One More Saturday Night because the story takes place in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in the ‘80s.  I went to college in St. Cloud in the ‘80s.  Beyond that, I remember nothing about this movie, so I will refer you to critical insights submitted by patrons of The Internet Movie Database.  This is what these kids have to say:

One More Saturday Night is a film that should have got more respect.  It is a very funny movie.”

“I highly recommend One More Saturday Night.”

“This movie has gone virtually unseen and what a crime that is.  The movie is hilarious.”

“It didn’t gain as much cult status as other movies of its time, but it’s a great flick to catch if you can!”

“I saw this movie when I was 12 and I loved it.”

“The bottom line is, as long as you aren’t picky about your movies, this is the movie for you.”

Critic Leonard Maltin hated this movie, but who would you rather trust, Maltin or the kids at IMDB?  Watch it for free by clicking here.

Note:  Apparently this movie is available for free viewing on a “regional” basis.  I guess that means maybe you can watch it, maybe not.  The Internet continues its downward spiral …. 

 

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 by Mark Twain

Twain

 

Mark Twain endures, I think, in part because he was a fascinating mass of contradictions.  Twain is celebrated for his humor, but read this pessimistic quote from his autobiography:  “The main-spring of man’s nature is just that – selfishness.  Man is what he is … [he] tarries his little day, does his little dirt, commends himself to God, and then goes out into the darkness, to return no more, and send no messages back – selfish even in death.”  And this quote:  “These tiresome and monotonous repetitions of the human life – where is their value?  Susy [Twain’s daughter] asked that question when she was a little child.  There was nobody then who could answer it; there is nobody yet.”  The man obviously had dark thoughts.

More apparent contradictions:  Twain was a champion of the “little guy,” yet his friends were business titans and presidents.  He was a sharp social critic, yet could react petulantly to criticism of his own work.  This autobiography, planned for release 100 years after Twain’s death, is at once comforting and disturbing, as is the man himself.  Helen Keller described Twain as someone who thought of himself as a pessimist but was in reality an optimist.  I’m not so sure about that.

 

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