Saturday, February 27, 2010

Revisiting Donnie Darko

The first time I saw Donnie Darko was when it first came out on VHS. A couple of DVD's were around at that time but the technology was just emerging and certainly too expensive for my family to invest in at that point, which was fine with me as I am generally not well receptive to change. I had no idea what the movie was at the time other than that I had seen a preview for it on some other VHS I had recently rented and thought it looked alright. That of course was the sweet summer between grade 10 and 11 when I would watch anything that had a cool enough video box regardless of whether it was released theatrically or straight-to-video. I had already gotten into writing reviews at this time and had made the decision that one day I would be a professional critic (I think my original review still exists on IMDB somewhere, spelling mistakes and all). What played before me, at the time, I considered an act of absolute brilliance. Of course, back then, when you're young and think you know something about something, Donnie Darko was just the thing I needed. Here I was, 16 or somewhere there around, working the film out over and over in my head, connecting the dots, making huge, brilliant discoveries about life and love and fear and death. I thought I had seen a masterpiece. Soon after I got a DVD player and slowly started collecting them. Donnie Darko was one of my first purchases. I intended to watch it over and over and over again in my lifetime. I just watched Donnie Darko for the second time tonight, Saturday February 27, 2010. I watched it because I want to sell off some DVDs and thought it might be one of them. Over the span on those years I've grown. I now hold a major in Film Studies, I've had reviews published and presented at a prestigious film conference, I've even gotten an e mail from Roger Ebert complimenting my writing, and, most importantly, I've watched some of the greatest films ever made. Needless to say I don't feel the same about Donnie Darko. One of us apparently hasn't aged well. I can admire the craft of it's making, the professionalism of it's performances, but now I've learned that ideas are not what makes a film great or not, it's how it goes about presenting them (Roger Ebert once said, "It's not what a film is about that makes it good or not. It's how it's about it."), and an over-emphasis on film style doesn't impress me nearly as much as it once did. In reality, Donnie Darko is one of those stepping stone pictures. Like Fight Club, The Boondock Saints or The Usual Suspects, to name a few, young people discover them and latch on to them because they are like nothing they have ever seen before. Every independent thinking, individualistic teenager wants to have something that they can hold above everyone else; something that speaks to them in volumes that their brainless colleagues could never comprehend, until they grow up, see more movies (better movies), and finally realize that those films are no more than empty-headed and empty-hearted excursions into style, with shallow philosophies that serve only themselves, not the stories. That was Donnie Darko to me. I'm glad I got out of that stage. Some people never do. I think Kevin Smith said it best on one of his Evening With... DVDs when he made the comment that not even writer/director Richard Kelly knows what Donnie Darko is about. The comment was in jest but that basically sums it up. Kelly has no overarching approach to this material. He has no one specific thing he is trying to say, so he says them all and hopes maybe one or two stick. I know, I know there's all this contradictory imagery that shows the duality of the human psyche, and I get that, but so what? Does that automatically make the movie good? What does it have to do with time travel? By the time the movie rolls around into it's third act and starts looping back upon time and upon itself and we are treated to a conclusion that is more ironic than anything, you finally see what Kelly's point was: to try to hold this thing together for just under 2 hours. That he does it is commendable. But it still doesn't make the movie a success. To put imagery in a movie and assume it speaks for itself isn't enough. The golden rule of style is that form must equal function. You cannot separate the story from the style. As Godard once said, they create each other. That's the mistake Donnie Darko makes: it doesn't provide an adequate story to back up it's symbolism. I can see why a lot of kids would connect with Donnie Darko. He's a depressed, dissatisfied youth, wandering through life just trying to find something meaningful. I obviously connected with that once upon a time myself. Now though, his journey just seems in vein because Kelly doesn't allow him to find that meaning. At the end, Darko isn't a kid on the verge of grand epiphany, he's just some character in some minor, hip indie flick that goes through the motions of being some character in some minor, hip indie flick. And that's about it really.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Valentine's Day

Jean-Luc Godard once said that the best way to criticise a film is to make another one. Consider Valentine’s Day anti-criticism. If Love Actually was like a greatest hits collection of all the warmest, funniest, wittiest, most tender moments in romantic comedy than Valentine’s Day is the collection of the boring radio singles you can’t endure anymore that seem to already be on every other album you own. It’s the pathetic record label cash grab: there’s nothing new; there’s nothing inspired; and there’s no other reason to buy it unless the thought of throwing money away to hear the same old songs for the hundred and one millionth time is compelling to you. Valentine’s Day is thus a bloated collection of big stars enacting cheesy scenes from bad movies you’ve already seen countless times over. They’re the same songs, all in one convenient place, in a different order. When you think about it in those terms, that basically sums up the aesthetic ark of director Gary Marshall’s career: to disguise mediocre fluff as grand entertainment with the help of big stars. Valentine’s Day takes place over the course of a 24 hour period on February 14, and features not a single scene without, if not a big star, than a recognizable face. Some of them fall in love, some out, some with other people than they should, and some with other people that they shouldn’t; and the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round. Most of them, the adults anyway, will end up making a pit stop at an I Hate Valentine’s Day party before racing off into the arms of true love after all. That’s the difference between Britain’s romantic comedy and America’s: the British approach romance with a polite detachment, as if they must remember to bow to love before letting it in for dinner. American films are more bitter, cynical and shallow; as if love is something to be dealt with before a grand revelation that leads straight to the cheesy, improbable happy endings. Maybe I should describe the actors. Florist Ashton Kutcher (surprisingly likable) proposes to his girlfriend Jessica Alba, using a line dear ol’ dad taught him (“If you find a girl who seems too good for you, propose.”). He’s best friends with elementary school teacher Jennifer Garner who is with doctor boyfriend Patrick Dempsey, who may still have a wife in San Francisco. Kutcher and Garner have the sweetest relationship as the two dolts who everyone else but they realizes are meant for each other. Working for Kutcher is George Lopez, doing his obligatory gee-wiz I’m an immigrant shtick. Then there’s Topher Grace going out with Anne Hatheway who, in the most unfortunate instance of a great actress forced to do embarrassing things, moonlights as a phone sex girl while also holding a job as a secretary for Queen Latifa. Julia Roberts is on a plane with Bradley Cooper. Emma Roberts plans to lose her virginity in a sequence not nearly as awkward and sweet as the same kind of one she played in the underrated Lymelife, while her shallow, moronic friend Taylor Swift, shows off her muscle-bound boyfriend Taylor Lautner, whose talent seems to evaporate in the presence of a shirt. Jamie Fox is a newsman, Jessica Biel is an agent, and Shirley MacLaine is a wife with a secret. The stories are so many and cut in such a way that there is hardly enough time to grow to care about a single one of them. Dempsey, for example, disappears for so long that by the time he swings around for a second appearance it feels like we’re already on to next week’s episode and need a refresher. Because the film is too busy to create a full story for the viewer to actually care about, what it ultimately offers is a mere reminder of all the much better films, romantic or otherwise, that all of these actors have starred in before. Garner in Juno, Kutcher in The Guardian, Latifa in Last Holiday, Cooper in The Hangover, Grace in Mona Lisa Smile, MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, Roberts in Notting Hill, Biel and Alba in…nothing particularily memorable. I guess their careers have jumped the shark. That’s a term that refers to the moment when you know something will, forever after, be downhill from there. It’s named after an episode of Happy Days, a show that Gary Marshall created. Go figure. Several weeks ago I happened to watch Taylor Hackford’s An Officer and a Gentleman, a great romantic melodrama with Richard Gere and Debra Winger. It was a great film that cast big stars as strong characters that are forced to encounter serious obstacles on their way to finding love and deciding whether or not they were worth overcoming in the long run. They were real people with real problems. Conversely, Valentine’s Day is a film that typecasts big stars into movie-type roles as people who deal with relationships that feel as though they were dreamed up in the office of some under ambitious screenwriter who needed a convenient way to connect her long, boring, uninspired story together. Unlike An Officer and a Gentle, who’s melodrama feels not like a film but an event, this one feels like someone has pushed autopilot, just on a grander scale.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Celebrity Connection: Eliza Dushku

I've done this twice now, where I've found photographic evidence that leads me to believe that certain celebrities are just other celebrities in disguise. So I've decided to give this a name. I'm calling it the Celebrity Connection, as you may have been able to decipher from the title of this post. I feel that it is my duty to unmask the truth behind the identities of all celebrities, one by one, especially on days when there is nothing better to write about. This brings me to the matter at hand. Eliza Dushku (Bring it On, Wrong Turn,) has another movie that no one will care about going direct-to-DVD. She should team up with Mischa Barton for her next movie. There's no point after all, of deriving two movies their chances of theatrical distribution. The movie is called Open Graves and IMDB tells me that it is about a bunch of surfers who discover a game that kills someone every time it is played. That kind of sounds halfway like the plot of Richard Kelly's The Box except, ya know, stupider. So anyway, I see a picture of Dushku from the movie and it hit me:

Could Eliza Dushku be Brandon Lee in disguise? You Decide.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Controversy Still Going Strong

I think this whole story revolving around Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland being given a truncated theatrical release in order to get it onto DVD quicker is fascinating, which means I'll post about it every time there is some new revelation which thickens the plot. Consider the plot thickened. Hollywood Reporter is saying today that Odeon in the U.K., who are responsible for over 100 theaters, have boycotted Alice in Wonderland and will not be playing it in the U.K., Ireland and Italy (it will however play in Spain, Germany, Austria and Portugal, where it is scheduled for the regular 18 week run). The reason for the boycott is because Odeon is saying that it has put considerable time and money into upgrading its facilities to accommodate 3D films and will therefore give precedence to those that plan on staying for a full run, probably because it is assumed that they will generate more revenue for the theaters. Poor Alice in Wonderland. Even if the movie is no good, here it is sandwiched between it's distributor who is basically saying "It will make more money on home video so let's get it there as quick as possible," and the exhibitor saying, "We don't need it, we have more important films to show." All this because it was chosen to be the guinea pig in a strange and, what is looking to be, unsuccessful experiment. Personally, I say good for the theaters. As someone who values the theatrical experience above all else, the idea that studios want to get movies through the exhibition process and straight into consumer hands as fast as possible is disturbing. Back when DVD sales started rising and box office receipts started dwindling, some pundits started saying that exhibition had simply become a preview for the DVD. Disney is bringing this statement one step closer to reality with this move. I remember the controversy over Steven Soderberg's Bubble some years back which was released to theater, DVD and on-demand all within the span on several weeks. Theaters cried it would be the death of them and they may have been on to something had Bubble not been a small film that applied only to a specific niche market. However, Alice in Wonderland is supposed to be a big tentpole picture. It has a big name director, big stars, and comes from a classic story. To think that a movie like this will find more business on DVD than in theaters implies a sad fate for exhibition. Instead of cutting the theatrical run, why doesn't Disney roll out Alice in the classic mode: open it in select cities, see what the reaction is and then decide how long to play it for? Or else, let it play in 3D for the full 18 weeks while taking it off regular screens after 12 and prepping the DVD? That way it can still play, theaters aren't sore about spending money to play 3D movies for shortened periods and the DVD can be in people's hands in a shorter time, while in the meantime those who still want to see it in 3D can. The reaction from Odeon though also brings to light another fear I've had in recent years: there's just too many movies being made. George Lucas once said that multiplexes were great ideas because it would offer people the opportunity to see smaller films in big theaters alongside the big event pictures. Although I appreciate his optimism, and in some cases he has been right, in most cases the opposite has happened. Studios are scrambling to make more movies to ensure that every screen is filled with their product. Instead of one or two quality products from each studio, we now get mass amounts of prepackaged garbage every week. prepackaged garbage has always been part of the movie going reality, but there's more of it now than ever as studios try to make as much money with as many films in as short a time as possible. That a theater feels it doesn't need a big film like Alice in Wonderland in order to do good business means that studios, by mass producing movies, are, year after year, lowering the value of their own product, even the blockbusters. This is unfortunate because it means that it's now easier than ever for good films to get lost in the shuffle. That seemed to have happened to Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant film with Nicholas Cage, which garnered excellent reviews but did next to no business. That's just one example. So I'm glad to hear that theaters are taking a stand and telling the studios that if they don't want to play ball, they'll play with someone else. What is unfortunate is that all of this comes at the expense of a film that might be good or bad, I don't know, but deserves just as fair a shot at success as any other. Could Alice in Wonderland fall victim to all this silly deal making? It'll be interesting to see whether studios or exhibitors will be making the next move. To read my other posts on this matter click here and here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Costumes Do Not Equal Acting

I was watching Steven Spielberg's Hook in which Dustin Hoffman plays Captain Hook under the guise of excessive make-up: ironically the performance predates Jack Sparrow by about 12 years. Although I was not surprised to discover just how bad Hook was (it's considered minor Spielberg and justifiably so), I was surprised by how bad Hoffman was. Then I got to thinking: it seems that stars gravitate towards these costumed roles in an effort to cut lose, do something wild, have fun, and escape themselves by having their persona's devoured by their costumes. Johnny Depp is so solemn and strange in real life that it's no wonder he tends to work with fimmakers like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. They let him cut lose and play by his own rules. But costumes rarely ever equal acting and sometimes stars seem to forget that. There's a thin line between imitation and performance when it comes to actors being cloaked in disguises to the point where they cease to be recognizable. A costume also invites an actor to be lazy. In the case of Hoffman, who is a great actor no doubt and managed to create a brilliant character under a disguise in Tootsie, he spends too much time acting with his fake teeth and his hook, making sure we see how horrible they are at all times, showing how vile a villain he is. However, outside of the hook and the teeth, which always seem to be playing against Hoffman within the frame, there isn't much of a character there and Hoffman approaches playing him like a high school drama student playing dress-up. The whole performance announces itself as performance: "Look at me," Hoffman seems to be saying, "I'm acting." Depp did the same thing as Willy Wonka in Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One actress who comes to mind who knows how to act with of make-up, not under it, is Emma Thompson. Look her in Nanny McPhee, not a great movie to be sure, but Thompson does exactly what it takes to bring a costume to life: she builds the character from the ground up. The make-up can speak for itself; it's Thompson who let's us know just what Nanny McPhee as a character is really about. The examples go on and on of great character actors who seem to be perfect for zany roles (usually as villains) who are overcome by their costumes. Look at Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman (there seems to be a pattern developing here, no?). The Joker is one of the most iconic villains in all of comic book history, but Nicholson does virtually nothing with the character except smirk his way to a huge paycheck. Even when Nicholson is all dolled up in the infamous face paint, he can't escape himself as a persona and the character falls to the wayside. Heath Ledger on the other hand completely disappears inside the same character in The Dark Knight and in doing so, provides one of the most memorable villains in all of film history. Ledger, like Thompson, builds the character from the inside out. We aren't seeing Heath Ledger acting evil, we are seeing the Joker brought to life outswide the pages of a comic book. Not only is Ledger deviously entertaining, he also manages to embody the character's ideas and philosophies. That's the sign of an actor giving a character everything they've got. On the other hand, when watching Hoffman in Hook or Depp in Charlie or Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever, or any other innumerable instances of this happening, the joy of acting is sucked out of the performances as we are made physically award of an actor playing dress-up. There's no joy in that. Acting is the art of assessing a character and providing them with exactly what they need. It's about making choices and committing to them to the fullest extent. Performances like the ones mentioned don't make choices, they don't get to know the characters, they don't strive for anything but second rate imitation. That's unfortunate as there are few things more disheartening than seeing a great actor phoning it in in a role that, on paper, they seem destined to play.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The John Hughes Tribute

Deadline Hollywood got a scoop today that there is a separate John Hughes tribute being planned for this year's Oscars apart from the usual name and picture as part of a collage thing that the Oscars usually do. This is all fine and dandy and touching and all that stuff because, as I wrote last week when I posted about Hughes, his films had an enormous impact and his death came suddenly and without warning. However, despite his impact, I'm not so sure Hughes was good enough a filmmaker to deserve his own separate tribute, especially when Robert Altman, Heath Ledger or Eric Rohmer, just to use random examples, only got the in memoriam treatment come Oscar time. I understand that some of the Oscar writers and producers and both hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin worked with Hughes before, but I don't know. This whole thing reeks of desperation: finding any means necessary to up Oscar ratings. It also sets a strange precedent for the future of Oscar telecasts by opening up the question: at what point is someone special enough to deserve their own separate tribute after death and just who decides who meets the criteria?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Shorter Theatrical Runs at Warners Too

A couple days ago I posted about how Disney is trying out some experimental ways in which to release their films, the first of which will be to truncate the theatrical run of Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, which would mean taking the movie out of theaters roughly a month early in order to get it onto DVD and ondemand even faster. The question that plagued my mind about this is whether or not such a maneuver signals the beginning of the end for seeing movies theatrically, or just a nice roundabout way of saying that Alice in Wonderland is no good? Now Hollywood Reporter is saying that Warner Bros. is also going to adopt the shortened theatrical run method too. Here's the scoop: Warner's is planning on doing the same thing to their fall movie Guardians of Ga'hoole (Zac Snyder's new animated film). The plan is to chop about a month off the initial run in order to have the product prepped for DVD and Blu-ray for Christmas. Similarly Disney is saying the reason for shortening Alice's run is so that it can be out on home video for summer. What's also been revealed is that that studios have assured exhibitors that they will sweeten the deal by offering concessions on movies with shortened runs. The studios have also promised that it will only do this to two movies a year: one in the spring and one in the fall. Of course, the exhibitors need to agree to take these movies out of theaters a month earlier than usual but really, what choice do they have? If they don't play ball with the studios, the studios won't schedule big movies for May and September, ultimately hurting theaters more than to just let the movies go early. Something about these developments fascinates me. What does it imply about the future of exhibition; the future of distribution; the future of home video; the future of the film industry in general? Will two movies a year do anything to help out stuggling studios, especially when they are movies that will probably make big money no matter how fast they get to DVD? I guess all we can do is wait and see whether or not all the majors will adopt this system or whether or not it will reveal itself as a failed transgression and be quickly forgotten.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Hughes

I just finished watching Don't you Forget About Me a documentary about a group of Canadian filmmakers who head for Chicago in order to snag a rare interview from iconic but reclusive filmmaker John Hughes who more or less disappeared from filmmaking in the late 90s and wasn't heard from again until his unexpected death last year. The documentary itself isn't a great one. It really has no background on Hughes as a person or a filmmaker and only really focuses on his 80s teen comedy work neglecting his best film Planes, Trains and Automobiles or his later, lesser quality screenwriting efforts under a pseudonym, and of course, ends in anti-climax as Hughes does not accept the invitation to be interviewed. However, one thing about the film struck me. The weight of the material comes from a combination of interviews with some of his actors, other filmmakers who he inspired (Kevin Smith, Jason Reitman), critic and fellow Chicagonians Roger Ebert and Richard Reoper and a bunch of high school kinds in an effort to show that contemporary teenage comedies are vapid and shallow and don't reflect what it is really like to be a teenager. "I've never had sex with a pie," one kid says. "But I've defiantly skipped class before." Smith, Reitman and Howard Deutch (who directed Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful) along with all the kids interviewed throw the term realism around a lot in relation to Hughes' work. They say that Hughes was so influential because you could go to his movies on a Friday night and see yourself projected up on that screen. Some people claim they knew and were friends with kids like the ones in Hughes' movies, and that no one has ever gotten that formula quite right again. I'll agree with the second point: no one indeed has ever gotten it quite right again (although I think there is maybe more truth to some of the more tender moments in American Pie than the kid in question is letting on). Indeed, teenage comedies over the years have become shallow, juvenile, gross and stupid and do not reflect what it is truly like to be a teenager in the midst of growing up. There aren't movies about kids just hanging out anymore, having fun, wandering aimlessly, trying to find themselves when they can muster up the energy to do so, and so on. That was Hughes at his best within those teen films. A lot of people in the documentary say things like The Breakfast Club could never have been made today or people like Molly Ringwald could never be stars: it was too talky, too boring and she was too average, too ordinary; that her persona didn't come with enough baggage to be flaunted in public. They are probably right. All of that is fine and dandy and, most of all, true. But I wonder just how much closer John Hughes actually got to reality than any other filmmaker ever does? My high school experience never mimicked anything like what is depicted in those films and this brings me to my reservations about using the word reality in regards to film. Simply put, realism in movies doesn't exist. Critics talk about it all the time. Andre Bazin constantly touted realism in film and dismissed anything that came with even the slightest hint of artificiality (Jim Emerson posted a good article on this topic over at Scanners earlier today). However, the realism that Andre Bazin and other critics talk about is not the realism of the everyday. It is cinematic realism. It's about finding something realistic within the context of a given film. Is the story plausible? Do the characters act in the ways we believe they would act in such a situation? I didn't believe a moment of The Dark Knight as creating a plausible, realistic world, but the film creates the aura that these people would genuinely exist in such a world and act in the exact manner in which they were acting. That's cinematic realism. This brings me to a question that was posed to me in a grade 11 Media Studies class. The question was whether art imitates life or life imitates art. It seems like one of those impossible questions with no right answer, like what came first, the chicken or the egg? But then it becomes clear. The answer is that it's a two way street: each are a reflection of the other. In other words, we'd like to think we talk and act like they do in the movies and the movies would like to think they talk and act like we do in real life. There's no doubt that, in those teen films, John Hughes was channelling people and places from his life and his youth; using something real as the template to cast his film against. However, are the films realistic in any sort of every day sense? I don't think so. Yet, the reason they are so affecting and people connect with them, enabling them to continue to live on these 20 years later, is because they offered an ideal portrait of what we wished out lives were like. To be as unique and innocent as Molly Ringwald, to be as hopelessly in love as Ducky, to be as rebellious...and so on. John Hughes' method was then to create characters that represented types. They weren't typical teen characters: they were amalgamations of every kind of teenage archetype there was, and then put them into situations in which any teenager could possibly be confronted with: love, heartbreak, detention, an irate teacher, etc. However these things represented the ideals: the love was sweeter and more innocent than real life might be, the heartbreak more searing, the friendships more long lasting, whatever you will. These kids were the people we wanted to be, the friendships we wanted to have, the lives we wanted to lead, the things we wanted to stand for. John Hughes' films didn't so much create a portrait of reality because, let's face it, if the movies really presented accurate visions of reality we would never go to them. We go to them to see things as better than they are, funnier, more exciting, more tragic, more anything other than what we know in the day to day. John Hughes just so happened to present those things within a world that didn't feel as if it was completely unattainable; that it just existed outside the grasp of human possibility. That's what Hughes did at his best. That's what made him special. That's true cinematic realism.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Something`s Fishy in Wonderland

New Tim Burton films don't excite me. He's done some good work but, to be honest, I don`t think the man is a very good filmmaker. He`s an excellent decorator but a second rate storyteller, which means his films always end up feeling like hollow exercises in special effects and set design while the emotional crux of the stories take the back seat. His approach to macabre subject matter doesn't much interest me either. I get that he is making films about outsiders cast away from society, but his satiric vision of the everyday life which he juxtaposes his characters against is, in and of itself, so over-the-top that he's not so much making a statement as making a misguided spectacle. It should be no surprise then that, whether it's good or not, I'm not really excited about Burton's upcoming live-action-with-animation take of Alice in Wonderland, which is set for release on March 5th in both 2D and 3D formats. What does interest me though is that Hollywood Reporter is saying that Disney is planning on taking an experimental approach to releasing the movie. Apparently Disney has been toying with different ideas on how to release movies and now it is time to put one into practice. So the idea is that Disney is approaching exhibitors about shortening Alice's run from roughly 16 weeks in first run theaters to around 13 or under. The reason for this is because Disney feels the film will be a big hit on DVD and ondemand services, so the quicker they can get it there the better. What's unclear at this moment is, if studio's plan on adopting this method of distribution, how they plan on compensating theaters for shortening the runs of big films like Alice in Wonderland in order to push them onto DVD quicker. For theaters, shortened runs means less actual return from the studio on the film's actual business and less physical traffic through the theater as people may be encouraged to simply wait for the DVD, which translates into less traffic to the theater's concession stands; the place where most of an operation's profits come from. Disney CEO Bob Iger has said that truncated runs could be a way to maximize the Disney's bottom line, but I don't quite buy it. Is this simply a sign that Disney has lost faith in Burton's project and doesn't believe it will perform much beyond the opening weekend? I can't imagine the studio pulling something like this with one of their big projects like a Pixar or Pirates of the Caribbean film. Or is this one last desperate attempt by studios in hard times to keep people going out to the movies before everything except tentpole pictures and arthouse fare go more or less straight to video and ondemand? It will be interesting to see how Burton, who began his career as an animator at Disney, will respond to his movie being the lab rat in such an experiment.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Celebrity Connection

Andrew W.K. was that rocker dude in the early 2000s who wore all white, talked in insane tongues, wrote infectiously catchy rock songs like Party Hard and She is Beautiful, and was supposed to be the golden saviour of rock, only for his career to fizzle out after his third album was never released in North America.
Well apparently, there have been rumours going around that Andrew W.K. might not be real after some cryptic comments he made during a lecture about how he isn't the same person now as he was back then. Collages have been made comparing his early pictures to more recent ones and, although the similarities are there, there are also just enough differences to believe that he just maybe isn't the same guy. Thus, it has been speculated that Andrew W.K. is a fictional character that his record label created and has been played by different actors over the years.
Anyway, whether Andrew W.K. is real or just a character isn't the point. What matters is that this got me thinking about another big celebrity in the movie world who may just be a fictional character played by someone else. Check it out:

Could Michael Bay really just be Michael Bolton in disguise? You decide.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Tom Cruise Look

Since I am a tad compulsive and can't stand disorganization, all of my DVDs are shelved in alphabetical order. Therefore, for as long as I've had DVDs, Mission Impossible 2 and Minority Report have always sat next to each other on my shelf. And then one day I got to looking at them and realized that, hey, they both basically have the exact same cover. And then I hit up Google and discovered that the majority of Tom Cruise starring movies feature the actor in variations of the exact same pose on the movie posters or DVD covers. It's always him in profile, from the side. You can see it start to take shape with Risky Business poster and evolves from there. I therefore thought it would be pertinent to share this new discovery of mine with all of you. Check it out:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Nominations Are Out

Of course, today is the day where every critic and blogger weighs in on the pleasant surprises and bitter disappointments of this years Oscar nominees, which were announced today. I won't go over them in a super amount of detail seeing as so many people already have, but I will make a few small observations and ideas on who I think will win in each category.
  • Meryl Streep is, not surprisingly, nominated for her performance as Julia Child in Julie and Julia. It's another example of a mediocre movie getting recognized come awards season just because of Streep. Who will win is kind of a toss up in this category. It's nice that two youngins were nominated for Best Actress in Carey Mulligan for An Education and Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, but considering the year Sandra Bullock is having she may end up grabbing the award for The Blind Side.
  • Best actor will go to Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart. That's all there is to say here.
  • A couple of surprises for the supporting actor category came in Woody Harrelson for The Messengers and Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station, but neither of them will dismount Christoph Waltz as the villain in Inglourious Basterds who has been expected to win since the moment the film debuted at Cannes.
  • Supporting Actress will go to Mo'Nique for her amazing performance in Precious. Penelope Cruz is a surprise as she nabbed a nomination for her performance in Nine, the under preforming, uninspired musical remake of Fellini's 8 1/2. This adds special irony to the underground rumblings that the Weinstein Company had paid their way to a Golden Globe win for the film. However, it wouldn't be a true Oscar ceremony without Harvey Weinstein sneaking in someone in a role that doesn't deserve the recognition.
  • Will the animation category be shaken this year with Pixar's Up scoring a Best Picture nomination? The one entry that offered it any competition, Ponyo, is absent from the category. 
  • Once again Pedro Almodovar gets completely overlooked in the Foreign Film category, not snagging a nomination for his Broken Embraces. Although the Academy has pulled some fast ones in this category in the past (Pan's Labyrinth losing to Lives of Others in 2007), Michael Haneke's White Ribbon seems to be the front-runner here.
  • As good as Inglourious Basterds and Up in the Air are, the clear competition in the Best Director category will be between former spouses James Cameron for Avatar and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Cameron won the Golden Globe, Bigelow won the Director's Guild prize. The Director's Guild is usually the best predictor. Although I think Precious is a decent movie, I don't think Lee Daniels is a good enough filmmaker to be a competator.
  • And now, Best Picture. There are 10 nominations this year. I don't think there needs to be, as none of the other 5 seem like they have a chance against the five that would have been up for nomination in the first place (Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious and Inglourious Basterds). I appreciate seeing the Coen Bros.' A Serious Man getting some recognition and Up gets a spot for animation, but really, District 9? Of all the good blockbuster entertainments in 2009, was District 9 really better than The Hangover or 500 Days of Summer?
  • Once again, Best picture will come down to The Hurt Locker and Avatar.
  • The Blind Side is also up for best picture. I haven't seen it and have sort of purposely avoided it because, even though it could be an uplifting and moving experience, I'm still a little skeptical about how, in 2009, Hollywood still feels that it needs a white person to tell a black person's story.
  • Finally, I'll repost a comment I left over at Sergio Leone and the Lefthand Fly Rule about the Academy's decision to have 10 nominees for best picture in order to hopefully open up the awards and let in films that were known more for their popularity than artistic merit:
"It's almost as if, by expanding the nominees to ten in an effort to get more mainstream movies nominated and translate that into more viewers, the Oscars are dulling their own significance. Now, instead of striving to be great art, all a film needs to do is be a big hit. Under this logic, why not nominate Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as best picture? Surely there must have been some booms of applause at the multiplex for that one, no? In my opinion this is just plain silly. An Oscar nomination has always been a way for smaller or bigger more artistically sophisticated films to get marketed to a wider audience. If films like The Hangover, as good as they are, start getting nominated because of the ten slots, then the entire aura created from getting an Oscar nomination will be dulled and rendered meaningless (not that an Oscar win means much in reality, but you know what I'm saying). The Oscars, at their core, are a celebration of film for people who think of film as an art, a feeling, an emotion, a scent of some sort of magic in the air, etc, not just as pure entertainment and time passing titillation. Love the films they rejoice or not, they aren’t for the kids who spend every weekend of their summer gobbling popcorn at the multiplexes. Don't get me wrong, I love dumb summer entertainment as much as the next, and see no value in elitism or snobbery, but the moment those films enter into the Oscar circle is the moment the Oscars lose their specificity." Find a complete list of the nominations here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Crazy Heart

Real country music (not that silly, poppy, beer for my horses kind of stuff) is a contradiction if you think about it. It is one of the simplest, saddest forms of music there has ever been and yet, in execution, it can be both upbeat and catchy. That’s essentially the driving truth behind Crazy Heart, which is not quite a tragedy but not quite a happily ever after story either. When washed up, alcoholic country legend Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is asked by a reporter where all those songs came from his answer comes with only half a grin: “Unfortunately, they came from life.” It’s no surprise then that the chorus to Blake’s biggest hit Fallin’ and Flyin’ ponders: “Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ for a little while.” If anyone should know… The contradiction of country music is thus also the contradiction of Bad Blake as well. He’s washed up, finishes a cigarette with another, is a thankless alcoholic, hasn’t written a new song in years and drives himself to bowling alley gigs in his old beater only to spend much of the time backstage with his head in the toilet bowl, while his young protégée Tommy Sweet is selling out stadiums on the back of his solo work. There’s a point it seems, in the career of any legendary musician, in which music stops being one’s job and starts being their biggest inconvenience; a mandatory disruption between binges. That’s the stage Blake has gotten himself into. And yet, on stage, singing those depressing songs, is when Blake is most truly alive and his performance glistens with power and energy. It’s a chore to get to the stage, but once there Blake is encapsulated by the power of his own songs. It’s at these times that one realizes that Blake isn’t a ghost of a former time, but simply a wanderer, damned to haunt the purgatories of Santa Fe as a man bearing the burden of his former excesses. And then things seem to look up as Blake staggers from one meaningless episode to the next. His first big break in life is the relationship that forms between him and the reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who comes for an interview and leaves with his heart. She’s a little broken herself, raising a child from a marriage that was a mistake, and sees something in him. Maybe it’s in the songs. She knows the risks, but takes the plunge anyway; thinking maybe saving Blake could atone for her own past mistakes even while knowing better than that at the same time. What Blake finds in return, through her son Buddy, is what he himself has lost with his own estranged son that he has not seen since the boy was four. Their relationship is a complex one because it grows under the knowledge that, no matter how much she loves him, no matter how good he is with the kid, at the end of the day Blake is still an addict and all an addict truly cares about is how to get their next fix. This leads to a key scene in a shopping mall in which Blake hits rock bottom and the film pulls the rug out from under us as a reminder that this isn’t just some conventional redemption story. Blake is a flawed man and, despite how much our hearts go out to him and how often we see that he is capable of good, he is not infallible and relapse is part of his nature. At times like these, the film subtly reveals that it knows a lot about addiction without ever really being about it. That’s essentially the approach the entire film takes, revealing itself subtly, never passing judgement on its characters or forcing them down paths they needn’t go. It’s not so much concerned with following a conventional story as it is in showing how life is random and episodic and, despite our best efforts to the contrary, can turn on us at any moment. Blake is neither a hero nor a villain; he’s just another guy playing the cards he has been dealt. Sometimes he wins a hand. Most times he doesn’t. There’s not a lot to say about Jeff Bridges that hasn’t already been said. He is, indeed, one of America’s most gifted and consistent actors. The entire film rests squarely on his ability to make an audience sympathize with Blake while never quite making them feel sorry for him. There are also small but significant moments for Collin Farrell as Tommy Sweet and Robert DuVall as Blake’s old friend. The film is wise to not develop these characters into subplots that could build into a story, not simply for the fact that it prevents them from succumbing to all the dramatic clichés this kind of story is prone to but, like everyone else in Blake’s life, it makes them feel just like what they are: random faces along the path to nowhere in particular.