REVIEW: Fading Gigolo

29 07 2014

Fading GigoloOn paper, “Fading Gigolo” sounds like the kind of movie Woody Allen would have made in the ’70s or early ’80s.  The bored Murray (Allen) facing the obsolescence of his current job decides to pimp out his unconventionally virile buddy Fioravante (John Turturro) to jaded women.  The concept is ripe for laughs and some good character development.

Sadly, Woody Allen didn’t direct “Fading Gigolo.”  That position belongs to John Turturro, who can’t quite recreate the magic of the acclaimed director he managed to cast in a key role.  Whereas even the minor films of Allen manage to provide a unique experience, Turturro’s film is rather bland.

Allen’s character is firmly supporting, which is a shame since he’s the best thing “Fading Gigolo” has going for it.  Even though it’s a little bizarre to hear him speaking someone else’s dialogue, there’s a certain vitality his trademark persona brings to the screen.  The same could not be said for Turturro, who seems to be sleepwalking through the film.

Fioravante is supposed to be entrancing these women, but I’ll be darned if I could tell you what exactly was capturing their imaginations.  Either Turturro was on downers the entire shoot, or he just actually lacks the charisma to hold the screen as a leading man.  He’s been great as a character actor for the Coen Brothers in the past, so I don’t quite know what to think.

In the director’s chair, Turturro is every bit as colorless.  He could certainly have learned the economy of comedy on set from Allen, but he proceeds with making a bloated film that lacks a pulse.  Everything from the way Turturro directs the actors to the elevator music he chooses to score the film feels drained of energy.

And I don’t mean to imply that Turturro is some kind of an anti-Semite, but I felt ill at ease with the way he portrayed the Jewish community in “Fading Gigolo.”  Much of the plot centers around Murray trying to convince a Hasidic rabbi’s widow to see Fioravante for some healing sessions, creepily against her strict religious vow of modesty.  His presence brings about the curiosity of a particularly zealous Hasidic neighborhood watchman played Liev Schrieber, complete with fake sidelocks.  The whole community seems to be constructed as rather exotic by Turturro, almost to the point where their differences are the butt of jokes.

Perhaps it’s just me who found that troubling, but I can make other assertions about flaws in “Fading Gigolo” with confidence.  It’s a film conspicuously lacking in humor as well as in panache.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight

23 07 2014

Magic in the MoonlightAt a Cannes Film Festival press conference back in 2010, writer/director Woody Allen opined rather extensively about his views on life.  Among the misanthropic murmurs, he remarked, “I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

Four years later, “Magic in the Moonlight” arrives in theaters to once again hammer home Allen’s personal philosophy as expressed in the quote above.  You know, just in case we happened to miss it in any of his other four dozen or so films.

This pessimistic fatalism goes down, however, quite palatably here because Allen casts two leads far more charming than himself: Colin Firth and Emma Stone.  Though they’re spouting lines that could make Nietzsche chuckle, the film never loses its mirthful mood thanks to the effervescence that the duo radiates.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” similar to 2009’s “Whatever Works,” has the feel of an undeveloped comedy from Allen in the ’70s.  That tenor is achieved by the nature of the concept, yet it’s also due in large part to the spell that Stone casts over it.  Allen clearly sees in her the same kind of alluring wit and personality that Diane Keaton immortalized in his films; it’s simply delightful to watch a wide-eyed Stone revel in one of his creations.

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REVIEW: Blue Jasmine

12 08 2013

Woody Allen’s latest feature shows our most prolific filmmaker access a side of his writing seldom seen: dark and unsparingly grim tragedy.  I’ve seen all of his 48 films, and perhaps not since 1992’s “Husbands and Wives” has he taken such a bleak and hard-hitting look at the demons we battle and the struggles we face.  His “Blue Jasmine” is a modern “A Streetcar Named Desire” mixed in a cocktail with the Bernie Madoff scandal and washed down with a toxic mixture of alcohol and antidepressants.

It’s no stone-faced drama like “Match Point,” though.  There are still plenty of laughs to be had here, although they definitely don’t resemble the kind of humor you’d find in Allen’s early farces like “Bananas.”  Nor do they even take the shape of the clever wit of “Annie Hall” or even “Midnight in Paris.”  In “Blue Jasmine,” we chuckle as we cringe.  Almost all of our laughs are muffled as they come while we grit our teeth.

That’s because his protagonist, Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine (formerly Jeanette, but that name wasn’t exciting enough), is slowly charting her own way to another complete mental breakdown.  She suffered her first one after her husband’s vast fraudulent financial empire collapses, leaving her penniless to fend for herself in the world.  Lost and not placated by her Xanax, she journeys cross-country to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in the hopes of getting back on her feet.

But Jasmine quickly finds that she’s woefully underprepared to enter the workforce since she has no degree, dropping out of Boston University with a year left to marry Hal (Alec Baldwin).  Despite offers from Ginger’s circle of friends to help her find secretarial or wage labor, Jasmine remains defiant, unable to accept the reality that she is no longer among the privileged Park Avenue lot.  Her half-hearted effort to come to terms with her new social standing leads to clashes with her eventual employer, Michael Stuhlbarg’s genial dentist Dr. Flicker, and Ginger’s boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale’s unabashedly honest Chili.

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REVIEW: To Rome With Love

31 07 2012

So maybe it lacks the timely thematic punch of “Midnight in Paris,” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Woody Allen’s latest, “To Rome With Love,” thoroughly and completely.  Sure, it’s not going to be rise to the top of his filmography.  Yet it’s a solid reminder of just how much of a comedic master Allen really is and just how effortlessly the laughs flow.

Part of my love of this movie could just be that I was in Rome a month before seeing it, though I will admit Rome gets a far more shallow portrayal than Paris.  Nevertheless, while we miss out on the Eternal City, we are treated to generous helpings of Woody Allen.  Since the story consists of four vignettes (which are really totally unrelated aside from their setting), we are treated to not one, not two, not three, but FOUR neurotic Woody Allen surrogates in one movie!

Now, if you hate the archetypical Woody Allen character with his nebbish misanthropy and his self-deprecatingly intellectual wit, then “To Rome With Love” will sound a lot like nails on a chalkboard to you.  However, if you are like me and willing to sit through something dreadful like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” in the hopes of one classic Allen moment, then you could probably care less about a statement on nostalgia or beautiful, city-encapsulating ambiental cinematography.  You’re just happy to see another Woody Allen movie.  And for me, that’s enough.

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Oscars 2011: Why it should be “Midnight in Paris”

25 02 2012

When I first saw Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” back in June 2011, I knew it would be one of my favorite movies of the year. Sure enough, it was, charting at #3 on my Best of 2011 list. But I had my fingers crossed all year that it would have what it takes to make the Academy’s list for Best Picture.

I got a little worried over the summer when the rule change in Best Picture to allow for a fluid field of five to ten nominees put extra stock in first place votes. I feared that everyone liked the movie but not enough people loved it. Allen has plenty of respect in the Academy – I mean, he’s only been nominated 23 times – and everyone loves it when an old pal returns to form.

But once awards season got rolling, all my doubts were put to rest. It had a relatively easy cruise to a Best Picture nomination after picking up just about every precursor mention necessary to stay firmly planted in the conversation. It was nominated for the top prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes as well as picking up a mention as one of the year’s ten best from the American Film Institute. It did exceptionally well on the guild circuit, notching mentions from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild (where it picked up a much deserved win!). I don’t think anyone would deny that in a traditional year of five Best Picture nominees, “Midnight in Paris” would easily have been included.

With the ceremony just days away, everyone knows it’s “The Artist” for Best Picture – just like it has been since the season got kicked off, arguably since Cannes back in May 2011.  Thankfully, a concept I like to call Oscar Socialism will kick in and give “Midnight in Paris” a win. My bet is that it comes for Best Original Screenplay since the writers love Woody Allen and its stiffest competition comes from a film with very little scripted dialogue. He hasn’t won here since 1986 with “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Allen’s highest grossing movie until “Midnight in Paris” surpassed it.

But let’s zoom back for a little bit and examine the movie irrespective of awards season politics. That’s what Woody Allen would want. Why else would he not attend any ceremonies to pick up his well-deserved trophies?

“Midnight in Paris” opens to the music of Sidney Bechet with a three-minute prologue featuring nothing but exterior shots of Paris. And if you aren’t resolved to visit by the time the opening credits roll, I don’t know what will ever make you want to go to Paris. Allen says the sequence is designed “to put people in the mood of Paris.”

The movie itself addresses the theme of nostalgia, and its warning to resist its deceiving allure resonates strongly and truthfully in a Best Picture race that includes “The Artist,” “Hugo,” and “War Horse,” all cinematic paeans to bygone times and styles. Early on in the film, a character states that “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” Throughout the film, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) must confront the validity of this assertion as he experiences the joys and the struggles of living in a different era, the 1920s Lost Generation of expatriate artists in Paris.

In a December piece in The Los Angeles Times, Allen reflects on why his latest film seems to have struck such a cord: “”People don’t want to be where they are at the moment. All of us at the moment are in a bad time, because reality is a tough place to be in. Gaugin thinks if he lived in Tahiti, or I think if I moved to Martha’s Vineyard or Paris, would I be happier? That is the constant fantasy, but you’re the person with problems, and they get transferred to the new locale. You can’t shake it.”

For me, movies like “Midnight in Paris” are the perfect companion to deal with the painful present. It’s a movie that doesn’t ignore the problems of the modern age but doesn’t dwell on them as insurmountable. That’s why it’s in the race – and that’s why I believe it deserves to win.





Oscar Moment: Final 2011 Predictions!

23 01 2012

Well, folks … guesswork is almost over.  In a little over 12 hours, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will announce their nominations for the best of the best of 2011.  We’ve had plenty of nominations and winners to give us an idea of what’s to come tomorrow morning.  I’ve done plenty of analyzing the categories, but I think now I just have to go with a mix of gut and knowledge.

Best Picture

  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. Midnight in Paris
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  7. War Horse
  8. The Tree of Life
  9. Moneyball
  10. Bridesmaids

I’m feeling only six Best Picture nominees this year.  (For those who don’t know about the new rules and regulations of the category, the Best Picture field is now an elastic number of nominees between five and ten.  In order to be nominated for Best Picture, a movie needs to receive at least five percent of the number one votes.)  The top five are very obvious.

I would say “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” takes the sixth spot because it’s the only other plausible nominee with enough guild support (sorry “Bridesmaids”).  If we learned anything from 2010, it was that the guilds still win out in the end.  “War Horse” has been far too silent on the guild front and hasn’t made nearly enough money to be a smashing success.  Plus, there’s an opportunity – and a likelihood – that they can give him another Oscar win in the Best Animated Feature category for “The Adventures of Tintin.” “The Tree of Life” has the critical support, but I don’t think that’s enough to break it into this race.  Oscar voters aren’t critics.

Best Director

  1. Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  2. Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
  3. Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  4. Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
  5. David Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The top three are rock solid locks.  Woody Allen seems very inevitable given the widespread love for his movie and that the directors have nominated him six times before.  The last slot could go any number of ways – Fincher like the DGA picked, Malick like every critic proclaimed from the rooftop, Spielberg if “War Horse” actually makes a strong showing, or maybe even Tate Taylor if they really love “The Help.”

Looking at history, the lone director slot comes when there’s a particularly unknown director for a well-liked movie: Joe Wright missing for “Atonement,” Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris missing for “Little Miss Sunshine,” Marc Forster missing for “Finding Neverland,” and Gary Ross for “Seabiscuit.”  So I think it’s safe to say that the vulnerable director of a leading movie is Tate Taylor.  But who gets the slot?

I would say look to the DGA, but looking over their nominees, they do a better job of picking the Best Picture five than they do picking Best Director.  So thus I glean from their slate that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has the strength to crack the Best Picture field, but Fincher might not necessarily show up here again.  My brain says go with Malick since lone director nominees usually represent far-out, well-directed artsy films.  But my gut says Fincher gets it, if for no other reason that Hollywood seems to have found its new anointed golden director and just wants to shower him with awards for everything.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  2. Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
  3. Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
  4. Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”

Best Actor is, on the whole, a very conservative category.  Save the occasional Tommy Lee Jones for “In the Valley of Elah” or Javier Bardem for “Biutiful,” it almost always unfolds according to plan – no matter how boring that plan may be.  So yes, I still pick Michael Fassbender for “Shame” even though there has been some skepticism raised recently.  And yes, I will even defend Leonardo DiCaprio who stars in what will surely be one of the most maligned movies of 2011 to receive an Oscar nomination.  This year, he accumulated the three most important precursor nominations.  And he managed to get nominated in 2006 even when he had two performances in play.  They like him, and I think that (unfortunately) they’ll probably reward him with another nomination.

Best Actress

  1. Viola Davis, “The Help”
  2. Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  3. Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
  5. Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Yes, even though she missed with the BFCA and SAG, I have confidence that the late surge of support for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” can net a nomination for Rooney Mara over Glenn Close.  I don’t think “Albert Nobbs” has much buzz about it anymore, and even though they like Glenn Close, there are a lot of quotients that Mara would fill.  She’s under 30 and hasn’t been nominated before; you have to go back to 1994 to find a year where the Best Actress category was all prior nominees.  Thus, I rest my case and cross my fingers.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  2. Albert Brooks, “Drive”
  3. Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  5. Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”

I only feel sure of the top pick Plummer; the next three are fairly vulnerable; the fifth spot could go any number of ways.  I still can’t predict Nolte for “Warrior,” and maybe it’s because I can’t separate my dislike of the movie from the nomination process.  I just don’t think the performance was good, and I’m hopeful that the Academy will validate my opinion.  It could be Brad Pitt as a double nominee for “The Tree of Life;” it could be Ben Kingsley sneaking in for “Hugo;” it could be SAG nominee Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar.”  When in doubt, go with SAG, I guess.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
  2. Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
  3. Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
  4. Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Someone else suggested the Woodley comparison to Andrew Garfield’s snub for “The Social Network,” and I’m dreading that it might be the case.  But I really have a hard time picking Melissa McCarthy for a nomination, even if she was a SAG nominee.  I just don’t see it happening.  I don’t think the performance is enough of a stand-out to break the funny woman barrier at the Oscars.  The nomination could be a symbolic vote, but I think traditional performances win the day.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. The Artist
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Win Win
  5. Beginners

This category always has some surprises up its sleeve for nomination morning, so I don’t know how confident I feel picking so close to the WGA nominations.  I think “Bridesmaids” will see the prize for its remarkable awards run here, and I think “Win Win” has built up enough steam to get in too.  “50/50″ has the WGA nom but not much else going for it.  Some say “A Separation” takes its enormous buzz and makes a showing here, but I think the drama of choice will be “Beginners.”  Just another gut feeling.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Descendants
  2. Moneyball
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Four Best Picture nominees will be adapted, so I feel like those will make it in over some arguably “better written” or “more loved” work.  And “Moneyball” has too much acclaim and steam to ignore; it could win even if it doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination.

So that’s what I think!  What about you?  Anything you are hoping for?  Rooting against?





Weekend Update – Golden Globes 2011 Live Blog!

15 01 2012

4:00 P.M.  E! has already started their Golden Globe coverage, so I guess it’s time for me to begin as well!  Time for the best of Hollywood (and television) to come out and get rewarded (or robbed).  Predictions will slowly trickle in as the stars grace the red carpet, but I’ll be writing from the arrivals to the awards to Ricky Gervais’ harsh quips.  With recaps, opinions, and insights, make “Marshall and the Movies” your companion for the Golden Globes!

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Weekend Update, Oscar Edition – January 8, 2012

8 01 2012

“The funny thing about winning an Academy Award is that this will always be synonymous with my name from here on in.  It will be Oscar-winner George Clooney, Sexiest Man Alive 1997, Batman died in a freak accident…”

- George Clooney accepting the Academy Award for “Syriana,” 2006

“I grew up in a place called Alcobendas where this was not a very realistic dream.  And always on the night of the Academy Awards, I stayed up to watch the show.  And I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world because art – in any form – is, has been, and will always be our universal language.”

- Penélope Cruz accepting the Academy Award for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” 2009

“Did I really earn this, or did I just wear y’all down?”

- Sandra Bullock accepting the Academy Award for “The Blind Side,” 2010

Why the Oscars?  Why the attention?

I had planned a whole, in-depth analysis here … but then I got sick today.  I want to get something up, so let me lead off with this: the Oscars are about setting the tone for an industry.  It’s about making and rewarding careers.  It’s about celebrating the best of an industry.  It’s about capturing a moment in time, reminding future generations of what the year meant to those who lived through it.

Revised Predictions

Best Picture

  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. The Help
  4. War Horse
  5. Midnight in Paris
  6. Hugo
  7. Moneyball
  8. The Tree of Life
  9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  10. Bridesmaids

As far as I’m concerned, the top six aren’t going to change.  “Moneyball” may or may not make it in, given the passion for the movie that may or may not exist.  And “The Tree of Life” could sneak in as the top choice of many voters, but I don’t feel comfortable predicting that, nor do I think the late surge of “Dragon Tattoo” love will translate into a Best Picture nomination.

Now, onto the state of the race. It looks like 2008 all over again in the Oscar race.  The little movie that could then was “Slumdog Millionaire.”  It was a consensus critical favorite and won the BFCA (Critic’s Choice), then trumped the more conventional Globes play “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in the drama category, and capped off its all-around sweep by taking the SAG ensemble prize without having any big stars to boast … and then pretty much every guild too just for fun.  You could say “Button” or “Milk” posed a serious threat – and “The Dark Knight” might have been a formidable foe had it not been snubbed – but everyone knew it was “Slumdog” all the way.

Similarly, in 2011, the oh-so-typical Oscar movie yet anything BUT typical “The Artist” looks about ready to lap the competition.  It’s been the critical darling of the year but doen’t have the unanimity that “The Social Network” had last year.  Thus, it has become their gentle suggestion of the best movie of the year, not like the mandate that backfired last year.  It has been scoring everywhere it needs to score – a field-leading 11 nominations at the Critics Choice Awards including Best Picture (which it will most likely win), a field-leading 6 nominations at the Golden Globes including Best Picture, and 3 nominations at the SAG Awards including Best Ensemble.  Now all it needs to do is start winning things to make it undeniable.

Running closely behind is Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” which looks to be the “Milk” of 2011 as it seems to be the favorite for both the Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay trophies.  It could win Best Picture; indeed, it seems likely to win Best Picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes.  But in a year where nostalgia and an old-fashioned yearning for movies to take us out of our misery – not face it – could hurt this movie which is already burdened by comparisons to Payne’s last film, “Sideways.”

Then again, having a virtual monopoly on the brain vote may help “The Descendants” because the heart vote is being tugged in a number of directions.  “The Help” makes a big case as it’s a period piece (Oscars love the past), it’s a feel-good movie (“The King’s Speech” won last year), it has real audience support ($169 million), and it has the actors behind it.  Davis and Spencer are both serious threats to win their categories, and I would definitely consider “The Help” to be the favorite for the coveted SAG ensemble prize.  Given how well-acted the movie is down to its core, this may be the movie that rallies the biggest branch of the Academy.  But if “The Artist” wins that award, I would consider the race to be pretty much over.

There’s also the case to be made for “Hugo,” which harkens back to the pioneering days of moviemaking, and “War Horse,” which reminds all who see it of the weepy sentimentality and soaring scopes of a John Ford picture.  But with neither making blockbuster cash and neither getting a single nomination from the SAG, it’s really hard to see either mounting a serious threat.  It’s particularly problematic for “War Horse” as it missed a Best Director nomination for Spielberg at the Globes and a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination with the WGA.  Spielberg’s legendary status will likely get him into the Best Director field at the Oscars, but not having a screenplay nomination will be problematic.  Not since “Titanic” in 1997 has a movie won Best Picture without having a nominated screenplay, and only once in the last 10 years did the Best Picture winner not also win a Best Screenplay Oscar.

The acting thing is also an issue as it’s pretty rare for a movie to win Best Picture without an acting nomination.  The last time two times it happened was with “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” – both of which had the actors’ support as shown by their wins in the SAG ensemble category yet were consensus favorites anyways.  The nomination may be the prize for these movies.

As a final word on the category, don’t count out “Midnight in Paris.”  It’s been flying under the radar, but it could win Best Picture in the comedy category at the Golden Globes.  Woody Allen has won the category twice before, and this is his tenth film nominated for Best Picture overall.  It’s also his fifth Best Director nomination and sixth Best Screenplay nomination.  All this talk about career rewards for Spielberg and Scorsese need to be equally focused on Woody Allen.  The movie has scored with the SAG, PGA, and WGA – so there’s no reason to take this movie lightly.

Best Director

  1. Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  2. Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  3. Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
  4. Steven Spielberg, “War Horse”
  5. Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

It’s never wise to predict a split Picture-Director ticket … even when the director is as widely regarded as David Fincher, who may come into play as a dark horse for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  But in my mind, the top four is set with Hazanavicius, Payne, Scorsese, and Spielberg, who were all BFCA nominees (and all but Spielberg were HFPA nominees).  Woody Allen, to me, seems like the logical fifth nominee.  The director’s branch has nominated him six times, four of which were not a complement to a Best Picture nomination.  They like him, even when they don’t like his movie.  While Terrence Malick may have crafted a more ambitious, director-driven movie, I still don’t see them opting for him over Allen.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  2. Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
  3. Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
  4. Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”

The top three are locked in after getting nominations from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Fassbender can’t be put in the same category since he missed with the SAG, the group with the most overlap with Academy voters, but he seems pretty safe given that the nomination would be a reward for his ubiquity just as much as his performance.  In addition, physical commitment to a role always plays well with the actors branch; see nominations for James Franco in “127 Hours” and Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” as proof.  “Last Tango in Paris,” another controversial NC-17 film, received a nomination for its leading actor back in 1973.   However, his name was Marlon Brando.

Leonardo DiCaprio, after garnering notices from all three of the major groups, would normally be considered a lock.  But here’s my hangup on predicting him: this is a category that almost always requires a quality movie behind a quality performance.  You have to look back to ten years ago when you saw a movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score below 70% – “Ali” at 67% and “I Am Sam” at a staggeringly (and unfairly) low 34%.  “J. Edgar” currently stands at 42% on the review aggregator. Not since 2005 has anyone with nominations for BFCA, SAG, and HFPA missed an Oscar nomination in this category, and that was previous winner Russell Crowe who was up this time for “Cinderella Man.”  It also happened to Paul Giamatti for “Sideways” in 2004, the victim of Clint Eastwood coming out of nowhere and scoring a nomination thanks to the rising tide of “Million Dollar Baby.”

But if DiCaprio misses, who gets in?  Ryan Gosling is having a great year but his two performances could cancel each other out, and neither “Drive” nor “The Ides of March” seem to have much momentum.  There isn’t consensus either on which is the more deserving performance; BFCA nominated him for “Drive” while HFPA nominated him for “The Ides of March.” I feel like this is prime territory for a dark horse candidate to rise … but who will it be?  Michael Shannon for “Take Shelter?”  Joseph Gordon-Levitt for “50/50?”  Woody Harrelson for “Rampart?”  Or will SAG nominee, but still underdog, Demian Bichir capitalize on the actor’s love for his work in “A Better Life?”  Unfortunately, there’s not much opportunity for any of these candidates to gain traction in the race, so you either go smart and pick Leo here or go with a hunch.

Best Actress

  1. Viola Davis, “The Help”
  2. Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  3. Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
  5. Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

For the past 15 years, the SAG field has provided a clue to at least 4 of the 5 eventual nominees for Best Actress at the Oscars.  The top four in the field – Davis, Streep, Williams, and Swinton – have all scored nominations from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Then, the plot thickens. The way I see it, there are three actresses competing for that final slot.  History says go with the SAG nominee, which is Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs.”  But Charlize Theron is also a threat for “Young Adult” after cracking the field for both the BFCA and HFPA.

And I definitely don’t think anyone can count out Golden Globe nominee Rooney Mara for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  People sensed the passion wasn’t there for this film, but it’s been stealthily building a healthy résumé throughout the season.  It was one of the top ten movies for the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute; this week, it was nominated by both the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild.

The movie has supporters where “Albert Nobbs,” which currently sits at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, has few. But love from producers, directors, and critics doesn’t provide any direct aid to Mara, who must be nominated by her peers in the acting branch of the Academy.  They may be more inclined to vote for Glenn Close because she’s a five-time nominee who worked tirelessly for three decades to get this story on screen, whereas Mara is making her first big splash (and will likely have two other chances to be nominated for this role) and Theron seems to have had her moment in the sun.

Here’s an interesting mini-trend I’ve picked up on: since 2003, only once has the Academy not included an actress under the age of 30 in the field.  Michelle Williams is now 31, so only Mara (or dark horses Felicity Jones and Elizabeth Olsen) fills this new quotient.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  2. Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
  3. Albert Brooks, “Drive”
  4. Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  5. Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life”

At once, this is the most solid and the most fluctuating race this year.  The frontrunner still is – and has been since June – Christopher Plummer for his incredible turn in “Beginners.”  I don’t really think anyone else has a prayer because this is both a sentimental, Lifetime Achievement Oscar (think Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin) and a consensus pick (think Tim Robbins and Javier Bardem).  Of course, this assumes that he will steamroll to wins from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA, a scenario which I think is incredibly likely.

Branagh is the only other sure-fire nominee after scoring nominations from all three of the big organizations thus far.  Brooks also seems pretty secure, although the SAG omission raises some eyebrows since the Oscars have matched the SAG five in this category for the past two years.  I would also say that given the support for “Moneyball,” Jonah Hill seems like a decent bet after SAG and HFPA nominations.  It’s that very support and presence that I think is the X-factor for him and perhaps the nail in the coffin for Nick Nolte, whose movie “Warrior” is totally absent on the precursor scene.

As for that final slot, I’m going gusty and saying it will be Brad Pitt in “The Tree of Life.”  I don’t see why this performance can’t ride in on the coattails of his sure-fire nominated one in “Moneyball.”  And it would make Pitt both a competitor and a co-star of Jonah Hill; how awesome would that be?  Dark horse nominees, unnoticed by the big three organizations, happen in this category – look to Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road,” William Hurt in “A History of Violence,” Alan Alda in “The Aviator,” Djimon Hounsou in “In America.”  But this is a gusty pick; smart money always goes the SAG five.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
  2. Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
  3. Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
  4. Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

BFCA/HFPA/SAG only agreed on Bejo, Spencer, and Chastain.  This is the only category where, to my knowledge, getting all three of these nominations does not ensure a nomination.  Last year, Mila Kunis missed for “Black Swan,” and Cameron Diaz missed in 2001 for “Vanilla Sky.”  It happens, although I’d say that that was more of a character judgement disapproving of some of their other, non-Academy friendly projects.  None of these actresses seem to be at risk for a similar fate.

I’d call Bejo the frontrunner because there might be some vote-splitting for the scene-stealing Spencer and the year-stealing ubiquitous Chastain.  If Viola Davis emerges as the one to beat for Best Actress, I would guess that the urgency to reward one of the ladies of “The Help” here will go down.

The race gets murkier beyond that, though, as the three organizations differed on how to fill those final two slots.  BFCA went Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” and Shailene Woodley in “The Descendants” (they nominate six, so Carey Mulligan was also in there for “Shame”).  SAG went McCarthy and Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs.”  HFPA went Woodley and McTeer.  Again, the rule is usually to follow SAG … but I just don’t think Melissa McCarthy can manage a nomination because comedic actresses just aren’t usually the Academy’s cup of tea.  I think the only precedent is Robert Downey Jr. being nominated for “Tropic Thunder,” but that was a lot more daring and probing of a performance.  McCarthy just – drains her plumbing in a sink.

McTeer disappears in her role (so I’ve heard) and Woodley is in the #2 movie of the year.  I think those are my other two.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. The Artist
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Win Win
  5. 50/50

Here is where I think the surprising “Bridesmaids” love – among the top movies feted by the AFI, SAG, HPFA, PGA, and WGA – will register.  It’s a well-written movie where the comedy is so heavily in the dialogue and the plot; while Apatow movies have yet to show up here, there has to be a first time for everything.

“Midnight in Paris” and “The Artist” are slam-dunk nominees destined to duke it out until the end, unless “The Artist” just pulls away and can’t be stopped.  I hope the WGA nominees “Win Win” and “50/50″ translate their success there into Oscar nominations, but this category could go a number of directions.  It’s hard to imagine that they would spring for a slate of five comedic nominees, but it could very well happen.

There’s a chance that “The Tree of Life,” thinly plotted as it is, will show up here.  “Beginners” is also an option; “Margin Call” could surprise.  It was a very good year for original screenplays, so many things are fair game.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Descendants
  2. Moneyball
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

“The Descendants” is about to lap the field here; barring a huge surge for “Moneyball” (which would make Aaron Sorkin a back-to-back winner), I don’t see anything standing between Alexander Payne and a second Academy Award win in this category.

As for the rest of the field, it’s kind of a mess.  I went with the WGA five here, which subbed the surging “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for the sagging “War Horse.”  (Funny enough, that would make Steven Zaillian nominee again in the category – the Oscars are seeing double this year!)

I think Tate Taylor, who will most likely miss for Best Director, can earn a nomination here for his work adapting “The Help.”

And while “Hugo” is a director’s movie, I don’t see why hot scribe John Logan (who also penned “Rango” and “Coriolanus” this year) can’t score a nomination.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” ineligible at the WGA, could also sneak in for a nomination given its labyrinthine plot.  But given its total radio silence during the season, I’m seeing that as a long shot at best.

Tune in this time next week for my LIVE BLOGGING of the Golden Globes!





Oscar Moment – First Predictions for 2011

29 11 2011

Best Picture

  1. The Artist
  2. War Horse
  3. Midnight in Paris
  4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  5. The Descendants
  6. The Help
  7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  8. Moneyball
  9. Hugo
  10. The Tree of Life

If we thought 2010 was a year that people most needed cinema to make them feel good, 2011 looks to be even more so.  That’s why it just seems right for a movie like ‘The Artist” to sweep in and take Best Picture.  It’s got the happy factor, the B&W factor, the silent film factor, and the nostalgia factor all going for it.  I have yet to see it, but even if I were somehow not to like it, I could still be content with this winning Best Picture because it would affirm the power of the prize.  When they reward risky, out-of-the-box movies, Hollywood responds by thinking even more creatively.  When they reward movies like “The King’s Speech,” studios start focus grouping the hell out of their contenders to perfectly calculate Oscar success.

There are other narratives to reckon with too, however.  Perennial Oscar favorite Steven Spielberg charges back onto the scene with “War Horse,” which coupled with box office success could wallop a hard knockout punch.  If audiences and critics decide it’s “Saving Private Ryan” good, I’ll have to seriously reevaluate.  Then there’s also Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” the biggest hit ever from the workhorse director.  It’s fun and funny while still making you think – the best of both Oscar worlds, if you will.  Right now, I can’t see Best Picture going to any other movie than these three.

However, don’t count out “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”  It has yet to screen for anyone, but that’s one heck of a book.  The delay makes pundits uneasy, but with AMPAS golden boy Stephen Daldry at the helm, Eric Roth with the pen, and a Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock combo on screen, this would have to be a total bomb not to score with them.

I also expect “The Help” and “The Descendants” to find enough of a base of support to garner a nomination.  And I can’t help but feel that people are severely underestimating “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  It’s David Fincher.

On the fringe, though, are three movies that could easily break into the field – Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.”  Each have their weaknesses, so we’ll just have to see how they hold up through precursor season.  That’s the fun of it!

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “War Horse”
  2. Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
  3. Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  4. Stephen Daldry, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
  5. Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”

Here’s where ballot manipulation will start to muddle the waters.  Michael Hazanavicius, director of “The Artist,” is largely unknown, but Harvey Weinstein will have him making rounds on the circuit to cure lack of name recognition.  He got Tom Hooper a win last year at the expense of widely renowned David Fincher.  If “The Artist” appears headed for a sweep, it will have to take this category too.

But if “The Artist” and “War Horse” have the same group of fans, I see it likely that they honor the latter by voting for the iconic director to take home his third Academy Award for Best Director.  Woody Allen could also benefit from his legendary status, although I would bet they tip their hat to “Midnight in Paris” in the writing categories.  (As for the other two nominees, it’s never smart to bet against Payne or Daldry.)

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  2. Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
  3. Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
  4. Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
  5. Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”

Can the “he’s a leading man, not a supporting actor” logic prevail to give George Clooney another Oscar?  I think that’s going to be the message from Fox Searchlight, and the starpower may be their only weapon to fend off the irresistible Jean Dujardin in “The Artist.”  I suspect it may already be down to these two, and wouldn’t it be exciting if we had another showdown like Penn-Rourke in 2008?

Meanwhile, I’m starting to think Brad Pitt is a lock for “Moneyball,” and Michael Fassbender’s daring performance in “Shame” will likely pick up some steam with release and exposure (no pun intended).  As for that final slot, I’m going daring and choosing Michael Shannon, who apparently turns in a very flashy performance in “Take Shelter” that I think might overpower Gary Oldman’s purportedly understated work in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”  But we’ll just have to see.

Best Actress

  1. Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  2. Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  3. Viola Davis, “The Help”
  4. Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
  5. Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”

My gut tells me that Streep will take the day here and win her first Oscar in 30 years.  The role is baity enough, the time is right, we may have never appreciated Meryl more.  But the fact that the film won’t open to audiences until next year makes it hard to gain audience support.

That’s why her biggest competitors may be two women headlining huge commercial vehicles, Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Viola Davis in “The Help.”  While Davis has Oprah and a sentimental vote behind her, Mara may be a huge threat because Lisbeth Salander is an intense, grueling role that demands a tremendous amount of physical commitment.  And let’s not forget that Oscar likes his leading women young.

Michelle Williams could make a big surge if “My Week with Marilyn” becomes an audience favorite with expansion.  Ditto for Charlize Theron in “Young Adult,” who has been left off the charts in favor of Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs.”  If it weren’t for her name and her passion for the project, I would have chosen Theron or Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” for that final slot.  But Roadside Attractions is going to need to work overtime to revive the Streep vs. Close dialectic this month because it died rather quickly.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  2. Patton Oswalt, “Young Adult”
  3. Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
  4. Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  5. Ben Kingsley, “Hugo”

I have absolutely no idea what to make of this field as everyone, except Plummer, could be totally out by next week.  Could the sentimental lifetime achievement faction of the Oscar voters shamelessly bare their teeth to honor the 81-year-old star?  At this point, that’s my best guess.  However, there could be another emerging storyline that will take over the Oscar narrative.

Could the lifetime achievement award be, in fact, for Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?”  I see it as extremely likely given that the movie definitely needs one acting nomination with the talent involved, and Bullock could end up falling off the radar.  Patton Oswalt in “Young Adult” could make a case for funnymen who don’t typically do very well in the category.

My last two picks are just educated guesses, more just flinging mud at the wall than anything.  If “Moneyball” is a homerun with Academy voters, Jonah Hill could find himself on base in the category.  Same with Ben Kingsley in “Hugo,” who seems to be emerging late as a serious contender, particularly if the critical masses adoring Scorsese’s latest sound off loudly for him and the movie.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
  2. Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
  3. Sandra Bullock, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
  4. Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”
  5. Carey Mulligan, “Shame”

I’m counting on big love for “The Artist” to make the unknown Bérénice Bejo an Academy Award winner.  Again, she has to battle unknown status, but her biggest challenger will likely be another unknown, Octavia Spencer in “The Help.”  Since “The Artist” is much more likely to take home the big prize, I think Bejo is more likely to ride on her film’s coattails to victory.  I’d hate to demean her with the term tack-on, but think Jennifer Connelly winning for “A Beautiful Mind” and Catherine Zeta-Jones winning for “Chicago.”  To justify Best Picture, maybe voters will decide it needs an acting win as well.

Two years after winning Best Actress for “The Blind Side,” Sandra Bullock looks to factor back into the Oscar scheme for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”  If Von Sydow isn’t showy enough, look for her to make a big rise simply due to the power associated with her name.  On the other hand, you have someone like Shailene Woodley who will likely ride in on the strength of her performance and the strength of her movie.  I don’t quite think her CV, consisting almost entirely of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” is going to impress many voters.

For that last slot, I’ve picked Carey Mulligan in “Shame” over the much heralded performance of Vanessa Redgrave in “Coriolanus.”  I will most likely look back and call myself an idiot, but I just get the sinking sensation that people are not taking her seriously enough.  She reportedly bares it all, literally and figuratively, in a role that showcases the talents that wooed voters two years ago in “An Education.”  But just like last year, the picture is very, very unclear.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. The Artist
  3. Young Adult
  4. Win Win
  5. Martha Marcy May Marlene

It’s really a shame that even with the number of really impressive original screenplays this year, the Academy will likely settle for standard fare. I’m still counting on golden boy Woody Allen to pull through here, but if “The Artist” is poised for a sweep, I don’t see how it can not take an award for its writing.  Only three films in the past decade have taken Best Picture without a win in the Screenplay category.

As for the rest of the field, it could fall any number of ways.  I’d say the safest third slot would be for “Young Adult,” which is written by 2007 winner Diablo Cody.  But as for those last two movies, I just picked two of my favorites from this year in the prayer that they have a chance.  I can dream, can’t I?

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Descendants
  2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  3. War Horse
  4. Moneyball
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Scribe Alexander Payne is an Academy darling, winner in 2004 for his adaptation of “Sideways” as well as nominee in 1999 for his work on the script for “Election.”  I think until otherwise informed, it’s not smart to bet against him.

But there are plenty of other Oscar winners vying for glory here.  Eric Roth, winner for “Forrest Gump” and nominee for three other films, is in the race with “Extremely Loud and Incredible Close.”  Jonathan Safran Foer’s book is quite eccentric and would be a quite a challenge to adapt; even if the movie doesn’t quite hit home with the Academy, I see a nomination here as practically inevitable.  “War Horse” is written by two previous nominees, and while the writing seems to be a lesser component of the movie, a nomination seems assured.

“Moneyball” is written by last year’s winner, Aaron Sorkin, as well as Steven Zaillian, winner in 1993 for his work on “Schindler’s List.”  Zaillian could even pull double duty as a nominee as I’m predicting, on a whim, that his adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” will also factor into the race.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 29, 2011)

29 07 2011

Was “Midnight in Paris” not enough Woody Allen for you this summer?  Was his latest film so dazzling that you are suddenly curious to delve deeper into his extensive filmography?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, perhaps you ought to check out “Small Time Crooks,” Allen’s 2000 annual that bubbles with humor and excitement in a way that only he can deliver.

It’s a recipe for chaos when the blundering criminal Ray (Allen) asks his short-tempered manicurist wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) to be a front for his latest thieving operation.  She runs a cookie shop aboveground while he and his dim-witted partners from prison work underground to tunnel into the vault of the adjacent bank.  The success story, however, gets inverted when Frenchy’s cookies become a runaway sensation and Ray’s robbery totally fizzles.

All of a sudden, fast forward a year and Frenchy and Ray have incorporated their cookie company, coming into more money than they could ever dream of.  How they react, however, is totally different.  Ray wants to remain the same, humble to his low-brow roots, while Frenchy becomes obsessed with joining the elitist art crowd of New York City … which is less than happy to take in white trash with money like her.

Their divergent paths lead to inevitable humor as Ray becomes involved with Frenchy’s spacy cousin May (Elaine May) and Frenchy recruits a high-class aristocrat, David (Hugh Grant), to train her for entry into high society.  It’s not incredibly deep, but it’s a fun examination nonetheless of class in America and how money can affect some parts of our lives but leave other aspects totally unaffected.  And in that uniquely Woody Allen fashion, “Small Time Crooks” can make you laugh in spite of its mopiness and defeatism.





(Super Belated) Weekend Update – July 26, 2011

26 07 2011

“He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.

He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved … New York was his town, and it always would be.”

- Woody Allen as Isaac Davis, “Manhattan” (1979)

Empire State of Mind

In case you couldn’t tell from the epigraph, this post is going to have something to do with New York City.  This post is so late because I just got back from a fantastic vacation there, a “graduation trip” of sorts.  I chose this domestic locale rather than some European hotspot mainly for one reason: Broadway.  I’ve been so busy being in shows for the past four years – 10, to be exact – that I haven’t had the flexibility to get up to see shows.  So, as a celebration of my semi-retirement from theater, I chose to see four musicals in the hotbed of the business.

But before I get into the shows, I have to talk about the city.  Just walking around, you feel the cinematic quality of the town.  More than anywhere in the world, New York City has been a muse to countless filmmakers from Scorsese to Woody Allen, who might as well built a celluloid shrine to the place.  It’s a city full of character and life, beauty and squalor, successes and failures, but above all a sense of passion in the air, a passion that can only be found in truly great cities.

First, it was off to “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.”  Even those who don’t pay attention to musical theater HAD to have heard about this show, be it the cast members getting injured, the plot problems, the dreadful music, or the direction turmoil – all amplified by the biggest Broadway budget ever.  With all the problems and publicity, they made a wise move to stop the show for a month to iron out the kinks, and about a month ago, they opened a “reimagined” version.

It could have been absolutely dreadful originally; however, what I saw was nothing short of incredible.  The story wasn’t all that great, and some of the music didn’t really work for me.  However, as I often say about cinema, theater is not only a written medium, but also a visual one.  If a work can be truly stunning to the eye, showing innovation, creativity, and imagination, then it can still be successful.  So in that regards, consider the musical version of “Spider-Man” the “Avatar” of musical theater.  Both are breathtaking experiences that push the boundaries of what we consider possible from their respective artistic media.  Say what you will about them being shallow works of art, but we need them just as we need movies like “The Social Network” and “Pulp Fiction.”

Then it was on to “The Book of Mormon,” this year’s Tony Winner for Best Musical.  It was probably the main reason I wanted to come to New York this summer in the first place; I mean, who doesn’t want to see the guys from “South Park” and “Avenue Q” take on Mormonism in a musical?  And to have it win 9 Tony Awards just increased the allure.  It’s now the hottest ticket on Broadway, and we were very lucky to get seats as cheap and as early as we did.  Try getting one now and you’ll probably be asked for $900 to $1,000.  Unless you are a politician paying for love, that kind of money for that amount of time just isn’t reasonable for most people.

I don’t know if I could ever justifiably fork over that much for any one show, but I can tell you that I’d easily pay $500 to see “The Book of Mormon” again.  It’s the musical you’ve been praying to see your whole life – smart, funny, electrifying, and a rocking good time.  While musical theater has generally been considered an artistic medium solely for escapism, Matt Stone and Trey Parker turn the tables on the preconceived notions, delivering a shocking work that deserves to be deconstructed like any other piece of intelligent literature.

I may not personally agree with all that Stone and Parker have to say, but anyone who dares to tackle an issue as big as religion in this age of artistic repression amidst commercial domination deserves a listening ear.  “The Book of Mormon” is not anti-religion, but it will ask of you to keep an open mind and ponder certain notions that you’d probably prefer to leave alone.  It certainly weeds out the weak at heart by the fourth number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (if you want to know what it means/ruin the surprise, go ahead and listen).  It’s bold but never brazen, mocking but never disrespectful, offensive but never off-putting, and challenging but never condemning.  While art nowadays consists so much of staying far away from the fine lines of acceptability, “The Book of Mormon” takes joy in finding those lines and having a rollicking song and dance number on them.

I can’t recommend this show enough.  Now that you’ve read this, I’ve officially dubbed every day that you spend in New York without seeing this show a wasted day.  It’s a musical theater experience unlike any other I’ve ever seen, and if for nothing else, see it for a laugh.  I laughed more in one scene of “The Book of Mormon” than I have at the movies ALL SUMMER.  Yeah, it’s that good.

After “The Book of Mormon” blew my mind at the matinee, I moved onto the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” that evening.  Yes, that IS the musical with Daniel Radcliffe.  I’ve never had any reason not to admire him, but this was a very smart career choice.  While I’m sure Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are fretting about how to break away from their Harry Potter personas, Radcliffe has already proven that he can do just about anything he can put his mind to.  Here, he sings and dances like a trained professional Broadway star.  He has charisma and charm totally independent from his world-famous character.

It takes time to get used to him speaking in an American accent, but after a while, the strangeness subsides and the fun reigns.  He and John Larroquette are an awesome duo; neither are classical musical theater actors, yet it’s so evident that they are having so much fun on that stage that it reverberates through the whole theater.  Call it the anti-“Spider-Man” with its top-notch satire on corporate ladder-climbing and its simple, resourceful set design.

And then, because I’m stupid, I tried waiting for him Daniel Radcliffe at the stage door for a picture/autograph.  Big mistake.  Huge.  I even left the show before the bows on a tip that as long as you left a little early, you were all good.  Well, all the “Harry Potter” fans were already lined up, so I was WAY in the back.  Then everyone else came out, and I was caught in this claustrophobic clump of hot, sweaty fans all voraciously craving an autograph.  I like to think I was most deserving since I made him a big sign for his birthday, which I couldn’t even raise above my head due to the crowd’s tightness restricting the motion of my arms.  This picture is all I have to show for my hour of waiting.  He’s the short, scrawny looking one in red – not the big one in orange.

My last stop on the musical theater tour was “Anything Goes,” the Cole Porter classic that was this year’s Tony winner for Best Revival.  While everyone loves contemporary, there’s something to be said for the classics, and this one reminded me of why musicals keep getting revived.  This production featured the incomparable Sutton Foster, a name you should start knowing.  She’s the Bernadette Peters of a new generation, a fantastic performer abounding in skill and smiles.  In the past decade, she has been nominated five Tony Awards and won twice – and she has only been in six shows!  Those are stats that would make Meryl Streep blush.

So get on board the Sutton Foster train; you won’t be disappointed.

What Else …

Not much.  I had a bunch of stuff planned, but I’ll save it for next week when I can do a better job.  I’ll throw in a few links here so a few people will actually read this post.  But until the next reel, hasta luego.

  • Sam of “Duke and the Movies” premiered his interesting new series, featuring capsule reviews by a variety of bloggers published each Sunday.  I’ll throw my hat into the ring this week because I’m back home.
  • While I wished happy birthday to Daniel Radcliffe from afar on Saturday, Andrew at Encore Entertainment was wishing happy birthday to Philip Seymour Hoffman and did a picture retrospective of his roles.  Gosh, that man can act.
  • Jim Turnbull at “Anomalous Material” counts down the best 10 actor-director combos.  It makes me feel bad that A) I haven’t seen a Kurosawa movie and B) James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock weren’t the chosen combo.
  • The LAMB Photoshops turning adult films into kiddie flicks are great for a laugh; I highly suggest you click on it.
That’s about it for me.  In case you missed my reviews this week, I’ll save you the trouble of a scroll and link here.




REVIEW: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

11 06 2011

With Woody Allen and his latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” very much the toast of the town, I figured now would be as good a time as ever to burst his balloon because the input of one 18-year-old blogger can really induce a neurotic panic attack in the famed director. I’m sorry to say that Woody doesn’t always make them like that; in fact, they usually turn out much more like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” a redundant statement of the director’s worldview that lacks the pop and charisma of his earlier work.

Allen’s annual entry into his cinematic canon, circa 2010, features a vintage cynicism and defeatism that stifles the possibility of any charm his impressive ensemble could endow the movie.  It shapes its grim worldview around this little Shakespearean nugget of wisdom: “[Life] … is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  That really puts you in a jaunty, comedic mood, doesn’t it?

The movie takes shape around a group of interconnected Londoners dealing with issues of love and faith in transitory phases of life, all of which begins with the divorce of Alfie and Helena, played respectively by Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones.  She can’t get over it and begins seeing a fortune teller in distress while he quickly hits the scene and gets engaged to a prostitute, portrayed beautifully by the very funny Lucy Punch.  This puts an added strain on the marriage of their art-dealing daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her failed author of a husband Roy (Josh Brolin), tempting them to begin affairs with exotic people they see on a regular basis.  For her, it’s her boss Greg (Antonio Banderas).  For him, it’s the new Indian beauty (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame) that moved in across the street … who just happens to be engaged.

But remember, it all signifies nothing, right?  There is no point!  It’s all just a meaningless charade and a stupid exercise of emotions before we inevitably meet our mortal doom?  If you answered yes to both of those questions, perhaps you are better off saving the 90 minutes of your life that would be spent watching “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” and using them to find the beauty in life.  Because it does exist, just not in this movie.  C / 





REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

6 06 2011

For devoted Woody Allen fans like myself, who will watch anything the insanely prolific writer/director puts his name on, watching him make virtually the same neurotic film over and over again is bearable.  For such fans, it’s a joy to watch Allen (or some other poor schmuck of a surrogate when he’s too old to play himself) bumble through life clinging on to his defeatist worldview.  For others, though, the filmmaker’s consistent nervous babbling has lost its charm and have thus tuned out Allen’s faithful annual output.

However, Allen has done something miraculous with his latest film, “Midnight in Paris.”  He has made a movie that satisfies both camps with wit, charm, and creativity.  It still has that burst of zany energy that the Allen faithful adore but tones down the nihilism so that the disenchanted or neophyte Allen fans can focus on the film’s ideas and not on their querulous complaints.  In other words, it’s a movie made to be seen outside the director’s normal niche audience but can still win that crowd over with its warmth and ingenuity.

Not to mention that many fans and foes alike have also been looking forward to Allen making a movie like “Midnight in Paris” for many years.  At 75, Allen is entering his sixth decade of filmmaking and has shown little indication of budging from the tenants of his philosophy, rarely subjecting them to challenges, criticism, or reproach.  But as he enters what are sure to be the twilight years of his film career, Allen hints in his latest film at a level of maturity we rarely see from the director.  He puts his views under a microscope in “Midnight in Paris” and analyzes their practicality in the modern world, ultimately producing some very interesting and unexpected conclusions.

Read the rest of this entry »





Random Factoid #436

7 10 2010

Hooray for memes!  It’s been a while since I’ve been tagged in one of these … good to be back on the circuit!  Thanks to Sebastian for tagging me.  Here’s the pitch:

The idea is that you list off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don’t take too long to think about it. Just churn em’ out.

Here are my 15:

  • Woody Allen
  • Judd Apatow
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Alfonso Cuarón
  • Clint Eastwood
  • David Fincher
  • Sam Mendes
  • Fernando Meirelles
  • Christopher Nolan
  • Sean Penn
  • Roman Polanski
  • Jason Reitman
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Steven Spielberg (no, it isn’t cliched)
  • Quentin Tarantino

In case anyone was wondering, I got to about 10 and then had a major pause.





Random Factoid #117

22 11 2009

Last week, I proved to myself that I am less like Woody Allen or Larry David than I thought.

I was at an advanced movie screening, and the star was there to answer questions afterwards.  I had managed to secure second-row seats, but the friend I was meeting was running late.  With a few minutes before his seat would be sold, I started to worry frantically.  I had to run up to give him the ticket as soon as he got there.  But there was no one to guard the seats I had secured.  So, I scribbled a note on a page ripped out of the notebook I brought.  It read: “PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THESE SEATS.  I GOT HERE FIRST.  THANK YOU. <3, MARSHALLANDTHEMOVIES.”

After five minutes waiting up top, I knew I had to return to my seat or I might not have one.  I came back to the row to discover two non-adjacent seats open on the row.  A very well-dressed women had taken a seat where I had left my note.  I asked, “Are those two seats taken?”

She replied, “No, I believe not.”

A little bit of anger was working up inside of me.  “They wouldn’t happen to be occupied by the person that left that note?”

She giggled, “Oh, I don’t know what happened to them.”

A part of me wanted to reprimand her for blatantly disregarding my note.  If I had not secured front-row seats, I probably would have.  But nonetheless, it was a victory for my self-control.








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