Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 January 2008

Robots in Disguise

I want to preface this entry by saying that I had no intention of ever seeing Michael Bay's Transformers, but as it turns out, it's rather a technical marvel and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles decided to nominate it for three Oscars last Tuesday. This made it the movie with the most nominations that I hadn't seen yet. So I told Netflix they'd better send it my way.

Transformers isn't what I would call a bad movie. Well, maybe it is a bad movie. The thing is, Transformers just looks so fucking cool. The whole time I was watching this clearly very expensive film I kept muttering to myself how cool everything looked.

I am officially a Shia LeBoeuf fan now, too. He is so charming and cute. Jon Voight, on the other hand, who plays the Secretary of Defense or some such, is flat out horrible in this. It's like he never took an acting class in his life. Kevin Dunn and Julie White are Shia's parents, and they're both really fun. Bernie Mac has a cute cameo.

Mostly, though, this movie is really really stupid. All of the stupid dialogue is compounded by the fact that, quite honestly, I couldn't figure out what was going on half the time. And by the end I was completely confused. The plot, as much as there is one, involves a bunch of alien robots locating a pair of glasses, I think. But the glasses were never lost as far as I could tell. And then John Turturro enters the movie and all Hell breaks loose.
There are good alien robots, see, and bad alien robots. . . . Of course there are.
It's rather hard to tell them apart, though, quite frankly.
The plot also involves some kind of cube, and doing billions of dollars of damage to downtown Los Angeles. I didn't much care about that stuff, but when the alien robots—I can't remember what the bad ones are called—are changing (transforming, if you will) into other random things like iPhones and cd players and fighter jets and tanks and shit, I was all about it. That stuff is cool.
Thankfully, too, there wasn't any stupid love plot or mooning about why MJ doesn't love Peter Parker anymore. Instead the action was broken up by comedy, rather deftly rendered by LaBoeuf, White and Dunn.

It was long too. About two hours, twenty minutes. Too long for an action movie, certainly for one with this scant of a plot. Still, I was drinking, and it wasn't that bad.

P.S. My commitment to the Academy Awards means I'll also be seeing Norbit, Surf's Up, In the Valley of Elah (which I was really hoping to avoid) and what the Fug Girls have called Yet More Pirates of the Caribbean.

23 January 2008

Oscars

In case you're keeping score, my four favorite movies of the year all got nominated for Best Picture this morning.

Atonement: 7 nominations
There Will Be Blood: 8 nominations
No Country for Old Men: 8 nominations
Juno: 4 nominations

This is, in fact, one of the first years I can remember where I am really fond of all of the films up for Best Picture. I am happy about it.

The other big scorers this morning were Michael Clayton (which I really liked), Ratatouille (which I loved), and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which I really liked).

There were some bizarre surprises this morning, too, which is why I like nomination morning so much.

I was most excited by Ruby Dee's nomination. And Michael Giacchino's. And, of course, Viggo Mortensen, who totally deserves this. It's about time.

22 January 2008

Jolie's Snub

Angelina Jolie, though she was thought a veritable lock for an Oscar nomination this morning, was snubbed by the Academy. It's a snub that I predicted back in June when her movie, A Mighty Heart was released. I didn't see the movie and expected that Jolie would be overlooked come Oscar nomination morning. I was right.

The thing is, I had been avoiding the movie since June, but then I watched Mira Nair's The Namesake last week (it's really good, but I wish it were more intelligent than it is) and a slot opened up in my Netflix queue. By this time, everyone was naming Jolie as a lock for a nomination, so I thought I should relent and send away for it, even though the nominations didn't come out until this morning.

Fastforward to today, when, realizing she was snubbed, I now have wasted my Netflix slot. I mean, I still haven't seen Transformers or Norbit or Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, yet, right? And I need to send away for those movies. And now, since it didn't wind up getting any nominations, I don't need to see A Mighty Heart, which the trailer made look so sentimental and silly.

But I popped the DVD in tonight, figuring I would send it back to Netflix in the morning and clear some space for the movies I need to see now that they've been nominated (Surf's Up, In the Valley of Elah). Boy was I wrong. Angelina Jolie was seriously fucking robbed this morning. And the film is excellent.

As a matter of fact, the only thing wrong with A Mighty Heart is its cloying title. Michael Winterbottom's film, which is the story of Mariane Pearl, the wife of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002, is never dull, moves along at a rapid pace, and is edited like a memoir, interweaving tiny splices of the Pearl's lives together with the kidnapping crisis. It's also a kind of cubist retelling of the situation, taking snapshots of Pearl's parents, the police departments, CIA, and other journalists working the story in addition to Mariane Pearl herself. I found the film incredibly moving, and also searingly intelligent about U.S.-Middle East relations. Pearl is an amazing, heroic character and Jolie plays her with tenacity and an incredible inner power. It's a truly superb performance, and Winterbottom's film is one of my favorites for the year. I was a fool to wait this long.

19 January 2008

The Oscars!

You may or may not know about me that Oscar nomination morning is my favorite day of the year. Like my own private Christmas morning. Julie and Trent were asking me why yesterday and there really is no reason that I can think of. I don't have specific films that I am super-excited for, really. I've seen the films and I think they're great on their own merits whether or not they get nominated. A movie like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring or Children of Men doesn't need Oscar nominations to wind its way into my heart. I already loved those films, and when they didn't get tons and tons of Oscar nominations, I was not upset.
It's the surprise of it all, I think. The exciting, nail-biting exercise of wondering who the crazy, usually-conservative Academy will nominate this year. Who the branches will deem worthy of honor. For me this is the fun part. And I like rooting for people, too. Mark Wahlberg's nomination last year made me happy as a clam. So did William Hurt's and Amy Adams' the year before.
When I lived in California, I would wake up at 5:30a and make coffee and wrap myself in a blanket and watch the nominations in the early, early morning. Now that I'm in Florida, the nominations aren't until 8:30a. This year I have to audit a class at 9:30a, so I can't exactly curl up on my sofa. I need to figure some shit out. My roommate and I talked through this last night, and we think I'll still be able to get parking if I watch the broadcast and then leave right after. So that's the plan for Tuesday...

I thought I would also share some of the big names I'm rooting for. Hopefully each of them is mentioned on Tuesday morning...

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Keira Knightley, Atonement

The Songs from Enchanted

Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

And in the score category, I'm rooting for these guys. Nothing is ever for sure in Original Score; it's a notoriously hard-to-predict category:

Alexandre Michel Desplat, Lust, Caution

Johnny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood

Dario Marianelli, Atonement

Of course, I want all of my favorites to do well: Atonement, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Juno, James/Ford, Eastern Promises, Ratatouille...


The Lives of Others and After the Wedding are ineligible this year, and it's not looking like Sunshine will be able to eke out any nominations, but it would be nice if it got one or two...
I also think Michael Clayton (which is going to place better than expected), Into the Wild and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are all respectable films that deserve a group of nominations.

I'm so excited!

17 January 2008

It's Like a Cartoon... with Real People

Last night Julie and I went to go see Charlie Wilson's War, the new Mike Nichols movie. I didn't hate it, really, but I disliked it rather a lot.
For one thing, the subject matter is really silly. It's also really cheesy and the attitude the film takes is a kind of ironic distance from its subject matter. This is supposed to be clever and funny and in keeping with the main character's personality (Congressman Wilson is a notorious womanizer and drinker). The thing is, the subject matter is actually really important, and Charlie Wilson's War's attitude is that the whole situation is a kind of football game, where the stakes aren't really that high. At one point a character even says "Let's kill some Russians!" It's hard for me to get excited about something like that.
It isn't just that the film is rather dumbed down (and kinda racist in the way that it makes all nations in the middle east seem like the exact same country). The whole thing also looks like it was made on the cheap. There are way more interiors than there ought to be for a movie of this type, and it feels strange and claustrophobic. At one point I even noticed painted drops substituting for decorated rooms near the end of the film. REALLY? They couldn't afford a set? It's a movie with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman!
The acting is fine, I guess. Hanks is good, as usual. Julia Roberts' accent goes in and out. I know Philip Seymour Hoffman is being bumped around as a Supporting Actor candidate for Oscar, but I don't see why. It's not even that flashy of a performance. His work in The Savages is much, much better.
Anyway, I didn't dig this movie. It made me uncomfortable, and it's just not that smart. It's actually more like a living cartoon than anything else.

16 January 2008

Making Beauty and Throwing It Away and Making More

Today Garrison Keillor read a poem on The Writer's Almanac that I'm sure he's read before. It's a favorite of mine, and one that introduced me to the poet Tony Hoagland. But I don't think I've ever posted it here. So, I'm copying Mr. Keillor and posting it. This is called "A Color of the Sky" from What Narcissism Means To Me. © Graywolf Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Color of the Sky

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
                           when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn't make the road an allegory.

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I'd rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

Otherwise it's spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.

Last summer's song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She's like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I'm glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature's wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It's been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

13 January 2008

Some Words on the Golden Globes

As you probably know, the Golden Globes ceremony/party has been canceled this year, in what has got to be the weirdest Oscar season in a really long time. And we all know that tonight's awards press conference will have no bearing on the Oscar nominations (which will be announced on Tuesday January 22nd) since the ballots are already being counted. The Globes really aren't that good of a predictor for the Oscars anyway. Nevertheless, I thought I'd do a rundown of who's nominated and I've included who I think will win in bold...

Best Picture (Drama)
American Gangster
Atonement
Eastern Promises
The Great Debaters
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood





Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Across the Universe
Charlie Wilson's War
Hairspray
Juno
Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

(Hot Fuzz, Enchanted and Dan in Real Life were obviously too funny to be nominated by the HFPA)






Thoughts on this?

Best Actress (Drama)
Keira Knightley, Atonement
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Jodie Foster, The Brave One
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: the Golden Age
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
*I am predicting Keira but honestly it could be anyone of them (except Jodie)

Best Actor (Drama)
Denzel Washington, American Gangster
James McAvoy, Atonement
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
*How can anyone resist the Clooney?

Best Actress (Musical/Comedy)
Amy Adams, Enchanted
Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Ellen Page, Juno
Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy)
Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
John C. Reilly, Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story

Best Supporting Actress
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There.

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
John Travolta, Hairspray
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Animated feature will go to Ratatouille, best foreign language film will go to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the Coens will take best director and screenplay too, and original score will go to Dario Marianelli for Atonement. Have you heard it? It's gorgeous. Song goes to Enchanted.


[Edit] My predictions mostly sucked. I went 7 for 14.

12 January 2008

Best Supporting Actress

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:


CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG, I'm Not There.


AMY MADIGAN, Gone Baby Gone


LESLIE MANN, Knocked Up


KELLY MACDONALD, No Country for Old Men


RUBY DEE, American Gangster


Runners-up in alphabetical order:
Jennifer Garner (Juno)
Catherine Keener (Into the Wild)
Helen McCrory (Becoming Jane)
Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: the Golden Age)
Brittany Robertson (Dan in Real Life)
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement)
Marisa Tomei (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)

And apologies to Samantha Morton, because although I thought she was rather badass in Elizabeth: the Golden Age, I have yet to see Control.

Related:
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2006
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2005
My Best Supporting Actress Picks for 2004

11 January 2008

Best Supporting Actor

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:


MAX VON SYDOW, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)


PAUL SCHNEIDER, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 
(& Lars and the Real Girl)


VINCENT CASSEL, Eastern Promises


SAM ROCKWELL, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

JAVIER BARDEM, No Country for Old Men

Runners-up in alphabetical order:
Timothy Dalton (Hot Fuzz)
Marcus Carl Franklin (I'm Not There.)
Peter Freidman (The Savages)
Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild)
Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)

Related:
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2006
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2005
My Best Supporting Actor Picks for 2004

10 January 2008

Best Actress 2007

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:


KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, Atonement

NICOLE KIDMAN, Margot at the Wedding

ANGELINA JOLIE, A Mighty Heart


ELLEN PAGE, Juno


JULIE CHRISTIE, Away from Her

Runners-up (in alphabetical order):
Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There.)
Parker Posey (Broken English)

Related:
My Best Actress picks for 2006
My Best Actress picks for 2005
My Best Actress picks for 2004

09 January 2008

Best Actor 2007

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote:


VIGGO MORTENSEN, Eastern Promises


BRAD PITT, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


TOMMY LEE JONES, No Country for Old Men


CASEY AFFLECK, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, There Will Be Blood


Runners-up in alphabetical order:
Adrien Brody (The Darjeeling Limited)
George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
Russell Crowe (American Gangster)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Lookout)
Rolf Lassgård (Efter Brylluppet [After the Wedding])
Heath Ledger (I'm Not There.)
James McAvoy (Atonement)
Gordon Pinsent (Away from Her)

Apologies to Tom Hanks, Frank Langella, and Sam Riley, whose films I regrettably have not yet seen.

Discuss!

Related:
My Best Actor picks for 2006
My Best Actor picks for 2005
My Best Actor picks for 2004

06 January 2008

Two Movies for Three Dollars and The Savages

Went to the dollar theatre last night and saw Dan in Real Life. I had heard that this movie wasn't really a comedy, that it was more of a heartfelt family drama. Don't believe a word of it. I thought Dan in Real Life was hilarious. It's mostly situation-style comedy and farce, but Steve Carrell is so good that he sells the whole thing. The family dynamics between Carrell and his two brothers in the movie, Dane Cook and Norbert Leo Butz, also create lots of good laughs. My favorite moment in the film is when Cook and Butz improvise a song about Ruthie "Pigface" Draper. It's absolutely hilarious. I thought the whole thing was a blast, to be honest. The plot is that Carrell, who is a widower and devoted to his three daughters, but altogether too uptight, falls for his brother's girlfriend (Juliette Binoche). Hilarity ensues. My favorite performance in the film, though, has got to be young actress Brittany Robertson, who plays Carrell's middle daughter. She's hysterically funny in the movie.

And then today I returned to the dollar theatre to see Ridley Scott's American Gangster, which—truth be told—I had been avoiding. It's two hour and forty minute length made me wary. And the reviews weren't exactly exuberant. But American Gangster is good times. It occasionally rips off The Godfather more than it ought to, but the whole thing is enjoyable, and tightly wound. I didn't feel like it took any really weird wrong turns or anything, and I was never bored. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It's very violent, of course, and Denzel Washington doesn't give a performance any more exciting than his typical work, but American Gangster is definitely work checking out if you like Russell Crowe. He does his usual strong work, and his performance is enormously engaging. Josh Brolin turns in a good performance, too. Ruby Dee has one really important scene near the end that has been garnering her a lot of awards buzz. It'd be nice if she got recognized; she is Ruby Dee, after all, and her work is excellent, especially in her early scenes, but I think the role is a little too small to really gain traction. We'll see.

I liked Tamara Jenkins' The Savages, and I thought it was occasionally funny, but I had a lot of beefs with it. The acting is uniformly good. Laura Linney (who I usually find rather bland) was interesting and exciting, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a rather beautiful, sad performance. The best performance in the film is by Peter Friedman, who plays Linney's married lover. He's an intriguing, rather desperate character and Friedman is note-perfect. The thing is, The Savages, like it's characters, is rather a self-involved, bourgeois little thing. Academics—especially failed academics—are a very easy target for satirical skewering, and after a while, watching these pathetic people try to squeeze by is not really that fun. The Savages is also hampered by a clichéd, almost nonsensical ending. It's a kind of freakish deus ex machina kind of device, where the screenwriter magically erases two hours of carefully crafted character work and tells us that the people we think we know have changed their ways overnight.

And for a little Christmas cheer, I watched the classic Barbara Stanwyck romance Christmas in Connecticut from 1945. It's an adorable, completely enjoyable farce/romantic comedy. If you haven't seen it, put it in your Netflix queue and watch it next Christmas with your sweetheart.

02 January 2008

2007 In Review

LOVED
~ ~
1. Atonement
2. There Will Be Blood
3. No Country for Old Men
4. Juno
5. Sunshine
6. The Lives of Others
7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
8. Eastern Promises
9. A Mighty Heart
10. Hot Fuzz
11. After the Wedding
12. Ratatouille
13. The Man of My Life

REALLY LIKED
~ ~
14. Michael Clayton
15. Into the Wild
16. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
17. Lust, Caution
18. Things We Lost in the Fire
19. The Darjeeling Limited
20. The Bourne Ultimatum
21. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
22. Black Book
23. I'm Not There.
24. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
25. Paprika
American Gangster
Paris, Je T'aime
Dans Paris
Dan in Real Life
The Namesake
Beowulf
Waitress
Away from Her
Once
Gone Baby Gone
The Lookout
Zodiac

LIKED
~ ~
Lars and the Real Girl
Margot at the Wedding
Rescue Dawn
The Bubble
Stardust
Surf's Up
Knocked Up
Enchanted

LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Kite Runner
Hairspray
The Savages
Shooter
Elizabeth: the Golden Age
Days of Glory

BARELY LIKED MORE THAN I DISLIKED
~ ~
3:10 to Yuma
Bug
Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Shrek the Third
Time (Shi Gan)
Feast of Love
Persepolis
Lady Chatterley
In the Land of Women
Breach

DISLIKED
~ ~
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
2 Days in Paris
La Vie en Rose
Across the Universe
Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End
Evening
Control
The Golden Compass
Transformers
In the Valley of Elah
Broken English
Charlie Wilson's War

HATED
~ ~
Spider-man 3

COMPLETE AND TOTAL WASTE OF TIME
~ ~
August Rush
Cashback
Death at a Funeral
300
The Ten
The Number 23
Norbit
Becoming Jane

Le Scaphandre

I haven't written anything about Julian Schnabel's Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) yet, and I'm sorry for that. I saw it days ago.

Le Scaphandre is a film of the astonishing memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was the the French editor of Elle but who became debilitated by a stroke that left him physically able only to move his left eye. He dictated the novel to his assistant by blinking his eye until she could write down what he wanted to say.

It's a difficult film, but also one I enjoyed very much. The acting is superb (Max Von Sydow has two scenes, and he is brilliant in both) and Schnabel's ability as an artist is really rather extraordinary. The film begins from Bauby's perspective, light coming in and out, nurses and doctors leaving focus and then returning. It's an interesting artistic choice, and it pays off. We relate to Bauby completely, and when he is finally able to communicate his thoughts to the other people who come to see him, the moments are moving and lovely. The way Schnabel achieves this is enough of a reason to watch the movie; he shows us a phantasmagoria of images that run through Bauby's mind as he describes them in the memoir. Narrative is as immaterial to the way the movie works as the materiality of his aphasic, paralyzed body is essential. It is this paradox between unbounded imagination and immobility that lies in the title of the memoir, and Schnabel has tapped into this duality to make a clever, beautiful film—tragic, to be sure, but also soaring.

01 January 2008

Another Good One from Mary Oliver

I finished Why I Wake Early. Books of poetry seem to take so little time to read, even when I read very slowly. It is too bad. Anyway, here is another Mary Oliver poem for the new year. This one is my favorite from this collection. It's called "One":
The mosquito is so small
it takes almost nothing to ruin it.
Each leaf, the same.
And the black ant, hurrying.
So many lives, so many fortunes!
Every morning, I walk softly and with forward glances
down to the ponds and through the pinewoods.
Mushrooms, even, have but a brief hour
before the slug creeps to the feast,
before the pine needles hustle down
under the bundles of harsh, beneficent rain.

How many, how many, how many
make up a world!
And then I think of that old idea: the singular and the eternal.
One cup, in which everything is swirled
back to the color of the sea and the sky.
Imagine it!

A shining cup, surely!
In the moment in which there is no wind
over your shoulder,
you stare down into it,
and there you are,
your own darling face, your own eyes.
And then the wind, not thinking of you, just passes by,

touching the ant, the mosquito, the leaf,
and you know what else!
How blue is the sea, how blue is the sky,
how blue and tiny and redeemable everything is, even you,
even your eyes, even your imagination.