Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar and Winslet

I wrote an Oscars roundup elsewhere, over at Buzzine. I'll see if it goes up. But a couple of extra notes.

The Oscars really are the female moment of Hollywood. So much of Hollywood is geared toward actors and young men. Oscar is the one night that is entirely feminine. In fact, last night was almost entirely about Kate Winslet giving a big emotional speech. The Reader was basically an excuse to put the ultimate award in her hand and let her get teary.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wow 2: The Dark Knight

Over $1 billion worldwide.

Wow 1: The Unstoppable Tyler Perry

Wow. Projected near $40 million.

2-4-6-8 [Fired Up]

Fired Up [PG-13]
Grade: C
Cast: Nicholas D’Agosto, Eric Christian Olsen, Sarah Roemer, Molly Sims, Philip Baker Hall, Edie McClurg
Director: Will Gluck

Have you ever run into those crazy Internet reviews that talk about that wonderful film experience known as Porky’s? How it was the horny teen movie that really had a heart of gold? No? You never read that one? Well good for you. I have. I’m still itching from the exposure.

So with that said, I don’t want to seem too enthusiastic about Fired Up. But I would say it’s not the expected disaster. The horndog teen romp, with two football players spending a moment of personal growth at cheerleader camp, at least has a touch of wit, even if the only thing it ultimately shares with Ferris Bueller is Edie McClurg. I appreciate the fact that it keeps to a minimum American Pie gross-out humor, leaving the penis out of the pie crust in favor of bits of intelligent observational humor and satire. Compared to most of these films, it’s smarter. And dumber. And everything in between.

The plot flows from two bodily secretions. One I can’t mention. The other is sweat. Shawn (D’Agosto) and Nick’s (Eric Christian Olsen) Chicago-area high school football team is headed for spring practice in El Paso, Texas. To avoid the horror of the heat in a more pleasurable place, the boys talk their way onto the cheerleading team. (For the record, I grew up in El Paso, and I’ve been t o Chicago in spring. Two weeks of sun would seem like a relief.) A series of cartwheels, makeouts, skinnydipping, gay baiting, and mascot jokes ensue.

This is hardly a setup for Ingmar Bergman, but as male teen fantasy it’s relatively harmless. When the humor fails, Fired Up at least shows its spirit with energy and skill. I could do without the gay-baiting. But I admit to being 17 once upon a time.

Still, it’s nothing special. It won’t rewrite the books on this type of film. And it won’t replace Bring It On as the official film of cheerleaders everywhere. But if you’re ever stuck as the only man at cheerleading camp …

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slumdog upset? Ha.

This is hopefully this blog's first link to Pete Hammond, but he claims that three voters he's talked to said they did not vote for Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. Does that matter? I'm not buying. I guess we'll know Sunday.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidential rankings

There are exactly 64 Americans who think that Jimmy Carter was anything but a disaster as a president. Unfortunately, those 64 Americans are historians who happen to have a vote in C-Span's ranking of presidents. Ahead of Calvin Coolidge, who had 3 percent or less unemployment and led an era of prosperity and industrial development. It's not his fault that Hoover Smoot-Hawley'ed the economy into a depression and the New Deal, averting a revolution aside, prolonged it. We we all know why that is (wink, wink).

But the one that always gets my goat is Woodrow Wilson, number nine on the list. Everything George W. Bush is accused of doing, Wilson actually did. Loyalty oaths. Red scares. Political prisoners. Crushing dissent. Historians point to his progressive "reforms" but a lot of those aren't lookin' too great at the moment. He championed Prohibition, which led to an unthinkable crime wave and established organized crime in this country. He took a vibrant railroad industry and gave us Amtrak. Most of all he was the most virulent racist of any 20th Century president. And unlike most presidents, it wasn't passive. He ran blacks out of the civil service, which was one place where they could consistently get jobs. His term was an era of horrible race riots.

In foreign policy, he gets credit for making American ideals a centerpiece of American foreign policy. But that doesn't mean he was effective in executing it. He bargained away 13 of his 14 points and couldn't deliver on the 14th, the League of Nations. Which is fine, because the League of Nations would have been the same as the United Nations, a big powerless debating society. With American participation, it would have met Nazi aggression the same way that it did, with stern letters and meaningless votes. His forays into the Mexican Revolution were arguably unnecessary and definitely ineffective.

As to World War I, there are no real feats of great leadership. We were not in it long enough.

40 is the new 30

A totally testerone-fueled post, but in a week with a Naomi Watts movie out and Marisa Tomei up for an Oscar, I ask, has there ever been a moment with a greater number of beautiful forty-something and forty-ish actresses? A list:

Naomi Watts
Marisa Tomei
Diane Lane
Salma Hayek (although whether she's still an actress is debatable.)
Jennifer Aniston
Halle Berry
Nicole Kidman ( i know some people disagree. But they're wrong. )
Gillian Anderson
Gong Li
Michelle Pfeiffer

Approaching forty:
Rachel Weisz
Jennifer Connelly
Marie-Josee Croze
Ayelat Zurer (the wife in Munich)
Cate Blanchett
Carla Gugino

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thoughts on Barry Lyndon

Had Barry Lyndon on my mind. Thought I would post the two best essays on the film - Mark Crispin Miller's Barry Lyndon Reconsidered from 1976. Bilge Ebiri's essay does a terrific job of uniting Lyndon into some of Kubrick's pet concerns - space, time, perspective, historical representation. It's a little too focused on these topics and on its impressive grasp of technique. There's a certain, "Yes, but what does it mean?" quality that is underaddressed. That's not to denigrate its thoughtfulness, however.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chop shop [Confessions of a Shopaholic]

Confessions of a Shopaholic [PG]
Grade: D
Cast: Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Krysten Ritter, Robert Stanton, Kristin Scott Thomas, Leslie Bibb, Joan Cusack, John Goodman, Julie Haggerty.
Director: P.J. Hogan

Obsessive fashion flower Rebecca Brownwood makes two quick admissions that let us know Confessions of a Shopaholic will be a disaster movie. The first is that she has a fashion fetish. The second is that she’s a journalist.

As a longtime journalist, I can safely say these two things are oil and water. Or oil and fire. I’ve known plenty of knockout female reporters. All the better to flirt information out of reluctant cops perpetually lined up for marriage counseling. But they usually aren’t the sharpest dressers. Their paychecks tend to make sure of that.

Shopaholic takes the natural shape of both fantasy fashion orgy and modern debt horror story, rendered accidentally timely by the debt crisis and economic collapse. Thus this chick-lit adaptation, based on the popular Sophie Kinsella novel, both wallows in the shame of overspending and celebrates the exhilaration of it.

Raised in a fashion prison run by her thrift-store parental wardens (Joan Cusack and John Goodman), the adult Rebecca (the redhead Isla Fisher) long ago unshackled her cloddy shoes and jumped into the pool of fashion excess. Her credit card became a lethal weapon. Right now, unfortunately, it’s buried in her own back. The bill has come due. The collector is at the door. And her gardening magazine just hung up the hand shovel for good.

But Rebecca is nothing if not a lucky girl. She lands an interview at Alette, a potential dream job at a fashion magazine. When that fails apart, she ends up downstairs as a stylish fish out of water at the money management magazine. Her innovative boss (Hugh Dancy) wants mortgage stories in everyday terms. She becomes a star columnist by writing colorful fashion-tinged financial stories for the Average Jane. On the matter of debt she is something of an authority.

I wish I could bottle that Barefoot-in-the-Park vibe, with the straight-lacer and the flighty bird. I could rent it out and buy a new house. Dancy is one of the few non-entity rom-com boyfriends whose intelligence seems a match for his profession (which unfortunately makes his chick-lit common sense lapses all the more frustrating.). Fisher plays up the Legally Blonde muffin out of the oven. This might work, but too often the script has her playing slapstick on all fours.

Fisher has dug out a solid career of appearing in other people’s films – The Wedding Crashers, Definitely Maybe, and the like. This is the 32-year-old Australian’s first big project on her petite shoulders. Whether the film wins or loses, she’s likely to continue to be the biggest Hollywood contribution of her birthplace, the emirate of Oman.

Weirdly and unexpectedly, the film seems to have a clue about journalism. The pay sucks. The writers work at clustered desks. The editor wants complex stories to relate to the reader. And toward the end, Dancy explains how he knows a personal detail by saying, “I’m an investigative journalist.” I know I’ve used that line once or twice.

Like a drunken spender, Confessions of a Shopaholic owes a cinematic debt, like all chick-lit adaptations, The Devil Wears Prada. But this film makes Prada look like the silk purse. Where Prada is a film about fashion that turns into a film about female relationships, this one never gets past the chick-flick clich├ęs. It won’t take long for it to go out of style.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NRO: Top 25 conservative films

In its The Corner blog, The National Review Online is running down its Top 25 conservative films of the last 25 years. Unfortunately, the choices so far seem to be re-inforcing the impression of conservatives as oblivious about art and film. I can live with the kitsch value of selecting Red Dawn (#15). But when was the last time that the 1997 Alec Baldwin-Anthony Hopkins flick The Edge make any best of list, much less ahead of Brazil and United 93? Or Heartbreak Ridge, for that matter.

The list finally started settling in this afternoon with surprisingly early selections for typical conservative heavy hitters Braveheart and Lord of the Rings. The Dark Knight was surprisingly low at #12. I would have expected all of those films to be top 10. So the top 10, set to be revealed over the next two days, should be interesting.

I figured out six of the likely remaining ones in the car a while ago, but can only remember a few. They once did a cover story on Groundhog Day. The Lives of Others had the official endorsement of the late William F. Buckley. The Passion of the Christ, obviously. If We Were Soldiers made the cut earlier, then Saving Private Ryan is almost certain. You can probably expect Juno to be in there.

I'm holding out hope for One Day in September, Kevin MacDonald's Oscar-winning Munich documentary. Maybe 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, although that film's political view is harder to discern. Grizzly Man can be a conservative film, if you wish to watch it as a tragicomic fable.
There's a supporting actress in Confessions of a Shopaholic who looks like the missing link between Shelley Duvall and Anne Hathaway.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Road rumors

So we have Internet IMDb rumblings that John Hillcoat's Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road could be outstanding. I hope so. It would be the best news on film that we've heard in a while. True, it's just a rumor. But the last film on which I saw such a rumor was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So let's hope.

Bale

I haven't said much about the Christian Bale affair. To me, it's a non-issue. In a way, I find it refreshing to see a guy blow his top. Additionally, as a method actor, I wonder if he was staying in character. I also wonder about the Radar Online reports that the guy deserved it and Bale became an on-set hero. But that could be just spin.

Flow

Did anyone have Taraji P. Henson over Terrence Howard after Hustle + Flow? I didn't.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Nightmare Before Dinner [Coraline]

Coraline
Grade: B
Cast: (voice) Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher
Director: Henry Selick

With an eye to innovation, Coraline impressively stitches together the old and the new in a three-dimensional doll house of animation.

The film bravely combines modern stereoscopic filming techniques with old -fashioned figurines and stop-gap animation, creating a smooth CG-like veneer. The effect creates dark, brilliant other worlds, and it never once occurs to you that these characters are small dolls.However, I kept hoping the story would rise the level of creativity. It never quite did. Despite all the technical razzmatazz, Coraline’s adventures are merely watchable.

Based on a story by Neil Gaiman, this is a fantasy scamper of tween-girl neurosis, as seen through the eyes of Coraline, a bratty girl bordering on teen age. Her parents, a hassling mom and a sheepish dad, have moved the family to a glum country home. There, she meets a dorky boy, with whom she forges a pre-sexual friendship. Out of boredom, she soon explores the creeky house and finds a secret passage.

And so after a mysterious voodoo doll arrives, Coraline becomes a fantasy scamper down an eerie hole in the wall. In a fantasy world on the other side, she finds a perfect copy of her family. Except this mom and dad are life-size dolls with doll-button eyes.

Everything in this world is perfect. Perfect food. Perfect parents. Rose gardens and circus shows are made specifically for her. It’s everything she could wish for. But, as the incomparably accurate tagline says, you must be careful what you wish for. Thefilm is a cautionary tale of the narcissism of spoiled children.

The director, Henry Selick, worked on The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the style of the film is similiarly macabre. Coraline looks like another visit to Tim Burton’s imagination (but with less outright zaniness). The film imagines two distinct world, the shiny fantasy and the muddy reality. It shows creativity to burn. Yet while posing more depth than most animated stories, the story never fully lives up to the atmosphere.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Star choice

So today, after watching a French film called Faubourg 36, I have a new future star selection:

Nora Arnezeder

This one is not dificile to see, as I am not the first to compliment her. She's basically Audrey Tautou waiting for her Amelie. This probably isn't it, but it should come. She's a gorgeously sweet-faced ingenue who looks to have acting talent on top of it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

More Steelers hatred

Why did the Steelers of the seventies, admitted steroid users, have so many players die before their 60th birthday?Why did a Steelers' team doctor resign in 2007 after allegedly purchasing six figures worth of human growth hormone?

How did James Harrison go from being cut multiple times to being named league defensive MVP? How did a bruising runner like Jerome Bettis manage such a late career surge? Was it natural. It certainly could be.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I hate the Steelers and the referee-pals they rode in on

The Steelers win the Super Bowl, 27-23, with their usual assist from the officials. Ben Roethlisberger hagiographers Al Michaels and John Madden failed to notice this. But as a lifelong Cowboys fan who also liked the Seahawks, I know this is not limited to this game.

Now that the Steelers have as many Super Bowl championships as many of their fans have teeth, let's take a look back at the crap calls and mental astericks of their reign.

It starts in 1979 in Super Bowl XIII, when Terry Bradshaw throws a wounded duck seven yards short into the general direction of Lynn Swann, who cuts back and bumps the Cowboys cornerback and falls to the ground. They throw the flag. First down. A few plays later, the referee shields the two Cowboys safety from making a tackle on Franco Harris. Harris goes into the end zone. 28-17. Cowboys never catch up.

The hatchet job on the Seahawks three years ago is notorious enough to have a Wiki page dedicated to it.

Every close call in this game was ruled in favor of the Steelers, until proven otherwise. The final fumble was a bullshit call. Warner's arm was clearly going forward. And they tried to make the same call earlier in the game.

Three questionable personal fouls on one drive led to a field goal, which eventually means the Cardinals need a touchdown at the end of the game rather than a field goal. The first one was a facemask that should have offset or been ignored, as both players grabbed the other facemask. The second one was a close call on a late hit that looked good. The third was that weird running into the holder play. It looked like Wilson had his shirt tugged by the player that threw him off balance.

The Steelers star defensive end - who somehow has gone from being cut by multiple teams to being able to nearly run down Larry Fitzgerald from behind .... far be it from me to say he sticks a needle up his ass or anything - should have been ejected for punching a player.

I don't know about the touchdown at the end of the half. But had he been ruled down, I doubt there would have been enough evidence to overrule it. But of course the onfield call went for the Steelers.

Not to mention the safety on the running play. Or the attempt in the first quarter to gift Roethlisberger a touchdown.